WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump is shifting the name-calling that helped drive his campaign victories over “lyin,”‘ “low energy” and “crooked” opponents to the legislative arena, where he’s now mocking Democrats as “clowns” trying to escape blame for a troubled health care law.
“The Democrats, led by head clown Chuck Schumer, know how bad Obamacare is and what a mess they are in,” Trump tweeted Thursday. The GOP-led Congress is seeking to overturn President Barack Obama’s signature policy but is far from unified behind a replacement.
It was the second time in as many days that Trump directed the insult at Democrats, and a clear sign he doesn’t intend to conform to the often, but not always, polite decorum of Washington-speak.
Democratic Senate leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, an adept message crafter and negotiator in his own right, retorted:
“Republicans should stop clowning around with America’s health care. Don’t (hash)MakeAmericaSickAgain.”
The exchange comes as the new Republican Congress queues up other proposed policy changes on taxes, regulations and more. Democrats are the potential obstacles, with Schumer, a New Yorker who has known Trump for years, their Senate leader.
Trump is not the first candidate and won’t be the first president to bestow other names on people. George W. Bush, for example, nicknamed people he knew from the campaign trail and elsewhere — from White House staff to foreign leaders to journalists.
But Trump’s name-calling is much shorter on affection. His taunts are his calculated, signature technique for speaking the way some Americans outside Washington speak, especially about widely distrusted politicians. But it’s not clear the approach that helped drive his campaign success will work in the new-to-him legislative arena after he becomes the nation’s 45th president on Jan. 20. “This is not a time for calling names,” Schumer told reporters Thursday.
Alliances in the finicky Congress can be fleeting even in collegial circumstances. And campaigning and governing involve different skills. In Congress, opponents — or “enemies,” as Trump has tweeted — don’t just drop out of contention for an office. They represent constituents and tend to stick around until at least the next election — the 2018 midterms this case.
Republicans now hold a 52-48 advantage in the 100-member Senate, but Democrats retain a somewhat limited power to hold up the chamber’s business by filibuster. Ten Senate Democrats are up for re-election in states that Trump won — meaning some of them could break ranks with their party on some issues.
Trump may need them, given that he’s not aligned with fellow Republicans on every issue.
To be sure, Trump has shown an uncanny precision for branding his campaign opponents and eventually vanquishing them.
During the crowded GOP primary, Trump labeled former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush “low energy,” and the tag for the studious policymaker stuck. Sen. Ted Cruz was “Lyin’ Ted.” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 45 to Trump’s age 70, was “little Marco.” And in speech after speech, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whose candidacy already suffered from the mistrust of many voters, was “Crooked Hillary.”
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