A new shibboleth insulting President Joe Biden has been circulating lately among Republican members of Congress, pundits and even weapons manufacturers. The refrain, “Let’s go Brandon,” might sound like an innocuous chant from right-leaning crowds. The Associated Press calls it a “not-so-secret handshake that signals they’re in sync with the [Republican] party’s base.”
The phrase earned its bizarre secret-password status within right-wing circles after NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast interviewed NASCAR driver Brandon Brown on the while a crowd chanted “F--- Joe Biden” in the background. Stavast, for reasons still unclear, suggested that the crowd was shouting “Let’s go Brandon.”
Some conservatives, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, cried foul, saying Stavast’s interpretation was a concerted attempt to censor people on the right. Since then, more people, from House Republicans to a Houston Astros fan who posed next to Cruz (the fan base has a record of rooting for people who display bad behavior) have adopted the phrase.
But while the idiom understandably annoys liberals and it certainly isn’t the most savory thing to say — or imply, as it were — about a president, I can’t help but feel like it is a significant downgrade from the glory days of the far right, especially during the Trump era. Compared to “Lock her up,” “Crooked Hillary” and “Build the wall,” “Let’s go, Brandon” feels much like Biden himself: inoffensive and very vanilla.
In many ways, it exemplifies that despite Biden’s lagging approval, the American right has failed to make the general public fear Uncle Joe. Even Trump’s epithet of “Sleepy Joe” didn’t carry the same resonance that “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted” and “Liddle Marco” did.
“Let’s go Brandon” doesn’t thunder the same way supporters’ saying “Trump that bi---” did. It doesn’t pack the same visceral punch as when Trump propagated the racist lie that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., which catapulted him to the forefront of the Republican Party.
It’s no coincidence that all of those insults were levied at either women or people of color and therefore reflected the larger cause of Trumpism: asserting dominance over marginalized groups as they began to assert themselves within political and cultural forces. But Biden is a white Catholic man from Pennsylvania. His presence in the White House doesn’t inflame the Republican base in quite the same way. Which is at least partly why Trump’s attacks on him last year didn’t land with the same thump.
But even Trump’s snide remarks meant to dress down Jeb Bush, who like him and Biden is also a white man who was at the time vying for the presidency, were much more biting when Trump called the would-be third President Bush “low energy.” Trump was playing masculinity politics, showing himself to be more politically virile than a man who came from an esteemed bloodline that includes two presidents.
“Let’s go Brandon” reminds me that the GOP is befuddled over how to combat Biden. Even Glenn Youngkin, who won the Virginia gubernatorial election by fusing traditional Republicans, suburban whites and MAGA enthusiasts, didn’t win by hitting Biden, who lives just a few miles from the border.
Rather, Youngkin won by campaigning on the cultural boogeyman of “critical race theory,” scaring white parents that their children would be taught history that paints a more complex picture than their lily-white world (although there are some who assert that this was more about a white backlash to talking about race in schools and even others who say it was just the natural consequence of a Democrat’s being in the White House). Supporters at Youngkin’s victory rally erupted into the too-clever-by-half chant, but it was nowhere near as raucous as ones we’ve heard at many a Trump rally.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t ways to make hay out of Biden. His approval rating has dropped precipitously ever since the exit from Afghanistan, which ended with 13 service members dying and images of people clinging onto an airplane as it lifted off the runway to escape the Taliban regime. Plenty of Republicans are also not happy about Biden’s vaccination mandate for companies, which a federal appeals court froze during the weekend thanks to a lawsuit led by GOP attorneys general. And a little under 60 percent of voters disapprove of the way he’s managed the economy.
But none of those ignite the id of the conservative movement, which is, of course, owning the libs. None of those arguments make liberals cry, which gives the GOP its joie de vivre. “Let’s go Brandon” undoubtedly annoys liberals. One tweet by Tristan Snell said the chant is the MAGA equivalent of “Sieg Heil.” To this I say: Calm the hell down; that’s an insult to Nazis. And furthermore, Biden doesn’t have the gall to steamroll these would-be Nazis like Joseph Stalin’s army did in Berlin.
Instead, liberals should be saying, “That’s it?” The only thing an entire political operation and its adjoining media organs, which are entirely dedicated to delegitimizing elections and promoting public health misinformation to devastating effect, can concoct is — a proxy chant? Seems pretty low-energy to me. Conservatives have had the better part of 2½ years to come up with better verbal tactical missiles against Uncle Joe, and they are coming up short.