From ‘Huckleberry Capone’ to ‘Turd Blossom’: A History of White House Nicknames


In I Alone Can Fix It, by the journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, we study that the Kushner recruits introduced in to strive to stem the coronavirus disaster had been referred to as “the Slim Go well with Crowd” by staffers at FEMA and “that whizbang crew of numb nuts” by West Wing aides. In Michael Wolff’s Landslide, it emerges that the younger information guru Matt Oczkowski, who was refrained from Trump as a result of he was so nerdy, was referred to as “Oz” as a result of of his title in addition to his behind-the-curtain information wizardry. We additionally study that Trump referred to as pollster Tony Fabrizio “Fats Tony” — not essentially the most inventive nickname — however Michael Bender’s Frankly, We Did Win This Election tells us that Fabrizio had one other nickname that he himself embraced, “The Rat.”

Within the Joe Biden administration, fewer nicknames have up to now been reported, however Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new guide Peril reveals that White House senior adviser Mike Donilon earned the sobriquet ‘Mr. Silent.’ That’s as a result of he’s so quiet on cellphone calls that different aides usually neglect he’s on till Biden solicits his opinion.

Nicknames are nothing new within the tough and tumble world of politics. In truth, their use goes again at the least to Roman occasions: the Roman Normal Fabius was referred to as Cunctator (Delayer) for his passive ways, whereas Pompey obtained the title Adulescentulus Carnifex (the teenaged butcher) for his aggressive navy model. Because the Romans knew, a superb nickname can seize the essence of the individual.

However within the White House, nicknaming can have one other function: a means to undercut one’s inner rivals. Certainly, nicknaming one’s colleagues and supposed allies in the end reveals extra concerning the dubber than the dubbed. The necessity to diminish, to push apart, to get forward all emerges when making an attempt to distill the essence of a colleague right into a pejorative moniker. And if we glance again in American historical past, it’s clear that’s one norm Trump didn’t break.

Kennedy & Johnson

We see this dynamic steadily within the John F. Kennedy presidency, the place nicknames revealed who was on which crew in intra-administration divides.

The core Kennedy gamers, particularly Lawyer Normal and presidential brother Robert F. Kennedy, loathed Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and used nicknames to reveal their disdain. At dinners on the Kennedy house of Hickory Hill and at fancy Georgetown events, Kennedy acolytes referred to the vice chairman with names like “Rufus Cornpone” and “Decide Crater” — referring to a decide who, just like the vice chairman, had “disappeared.” Ethel Kennedy even obtained in on the motion, referred to as Johnson “Huckleberry Capone.”

Girl Chook Johnson didn’t escape the eye both; the vice presidential couple was referred to as “Uncle Cornpone and his Little Pork Chop.”

Johnson was conscious of these slights and had his personal nicknames for Kennedy and his brother, referring to President Kennedy as “the boy” and “Johnny,” and Bobby Kennedy as “Sonny boy.” The use of nicknames went past simply the Johnson-Kennedy enmity. Additionally coming in for mockery from Kennedy aides was the group of journalists and hangers-on centered across the mental but ineffectual undersecretary of State Chester Bowles. This group’s nickname? “The Chet Set.”


Deploying nicknames in opposition to each other is, of course, a bipartisan custom. Within the Richard Nixon administration, nationwide safety adviser Henry Kissinger privately referred to the president as “that madman,” “our drunken buddy” and “the meatball thoughts.” Chief of Employees H.R. Haldeman had his personal nicknames for Nixon, together with the “Outdated Man,” “Rufus,” “The Chief of the Free World” and, in his diaries, “P.” Haldeman himself was generally known as one of “the Germans,” alongside together with his colleague, home coverage adviser John Ehrlichman.

Extra entertainingly, Labor Secretary Peter Brennan, a blue-collar New Yorker, was referred to as Secretary Bunker, after All within the Household’s Archie Bunker. And ethnic outreach staffer Mike Balzano, who got here from waste administration, was generally known as “the rubbish man,” each for his earlier job and for his White House obligations.

Some of the highest reporters of the period additionally didn’t fail to escape the nicknaming. The international correspondents who coated the famously press-friendly Kissinger had been referred to as “the Choirboys” as a result of they had been supposedly so shut to Kissinger.


Within the Jimmy Carter administration, the president’s cousin Hugh Carter, introduced in to get monetary savings in White House operations, was tagged as “Cousin Low-cost” for his cost-cutting efforts. Hyper-aggressive nationwide safety adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski obtained tagged as “Woody Woodpecker” for a mixture of his conduct, his purple hair and his angular options.

That and different nicknames had been seen by one staffer as a sign of Brzezinski’s decrease standing within the White House relative to different aides. As an nameless Carter instructed the Washington Put up, “Contained in the White House I don’t suppose Zbig might win a significant battle with Ham [Jordan] or Jody [Powell]. There’s no query that if Jody needed to take Zbig on Zbig would get his a– handed to him. Simply have a look at all of the nicknames they name him.”

Reagan and Bush

Underneath Ronald Reagan, nicknames remained nasty, however they turned extra purposeful. When Ed Meese, a high adviser who had as soon as been Reagan’s gubernatorial chief of workers, made a play for White House chief of workers, he discovered himself combating off perceptions that he was disorganized. Meese’s opponents eagerly seized on his well-known briefcase, into which papers would go at night time, by no means to be seen once more. The briefcase itself scored a number of nicknames, together with “a briefcase and not using a backside,” “the black gap” and, most legendarily, the “Meesecase.” This can be the one time that an aide’s possession obtained a nickname.

Very hardly ever, a nickname has helped somebody get a job. Reagan tapped Caspar Weinberger for secretary of Protection partly primarily based on his cost-cutting status as a former OMB director, captured within the nickname “Cap the Knife.” As soon as Weinberger was ensconced on the Pentagon, nevertheless, Reagan funds chief David Stockman would uncover to his chagrin that the status conveyed by the nickname didn’t carry over to Weinberger’s new place.

A extra nefarious nickname plan got here from Reagan press aide Larry Speakes, who intentionally tagged rival David Gergen as “the Tall Man,” later shortened to “Tall,” in an effort to diminish him. Speakes supplemented his anti-Gergen efforts with jokes — “Gergen had been kidnapped as a baby and raised by giraffes” — and soiled methods. Speakes would have the rostrum lowered and the screws tightened in order that Gergen would tower above it, wanting ridiculous. In fact, Gergen induced some of his personal issues as properly together with his closeness to the press. Reagan nationwide safety adviser Richard Allen referred to as Gergen “Professor Leaky,” and even thought that Gergen was slipping out and in of the Scenario Room in the course of the fraught interval after Reagan was shot to give surreptitious updates to the press.

Nancy Reagan, who held loads of energy in her husband’s White House, had a slew of nicknames. In accordance to Karen Tumulty’s latest The Triumph of Nancy Reagan, the primary woman was referred to as “The Iron Butterfly,” “The Belle of Rodeo Drive,” “Fancy Nancy,” “The Cutout Doll,” “The Evita of Bel Air,” “Mommie Dearest,” “The Hairdo with Nervousness,” “The Ice Queen” and “Attila the Hen.” All of these handles revealed a core fact of the Reagan administration: Nancy was a key participant, and aides crossed her at their peril.

One other first woman who might be brutal in her assessments of workers was Barbara Bush. When longtime Bush buddy and political fixer James Baker reluctantly gave up his job as secretary of State to strive to rescue President George Bush’s floundering 1992 reelection marketing campaign, Barbara felt that Baker was not totally engaged within the effort. In accordance to Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s The Man Who Ran Washington, Mrs. Bush would derisively name Baker “The Invisible Man,” prompting the president to say, “Barb, get off his case.”


Many of the nicknames within the Clinton administration highlighted ideological divisions inside that White House. In 1994, when Invoice Clinton and the Democrats misplaced management of each homes of Congress for the primary time in 4 many years, Clinton introduced in conservative adviser Dick Morris to assist “triangulate” himself again into the nice graces of the American folks. This led to epic struggles between Morris and the extra liberal aides like George Stephanopoulos and Harold Ickes. Ickes’ longstanding willingness to tackle unsavory duties for Clinton led to his being nicknamed “the rubbish man” and “director of the sanitation division.” Ickes and his allies referred to as the quirky Morris “the Unabomber,” whereas Morris referred to Ickes and firm as “the thugocracy.”

Stephanopoulos in the meantime obtained a stand-alone nickname when he left the White House, wrote a tell-all guide and have become a pundit, main aggrieved aides nonetheless within the administration to name him ABC Information “commentraitor” George Stephanopoulos. One other Clinton-era nickname magnet was Sidney Blumenthal, generally known as “Sid Vicious” for his sharp pen as a journalist. As soon as within the White House, he was so susceptible to conspiracy theories that he was referred to as “GK,” for the Grassy Knoll idea of a second shooter favored by Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists.

Bush II

Within the George W. Bush administration, the nicknaming impulse got here from the very high. Bush cherished giving crew members nicknames — typically, although not at all times, pleasant ones. Political strategist Karl Rove was generally known as “The Architect” or “Turd Blossom,” relying on whether or not he was in favor that day. OMB Director Mitch Daniels was “The Blade,” speechwriter Michael Gerson was “The Scribe,” and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was “The Massive O.”

Bush himself was no stranger to being nicknamed. In his father’s administration, the late Colin Powell used to name the long run president (and his future boss) “Sonny”; Bush was additionally referred to as “The Lip,” for his huge mouth, at Andover, and his spouse Laura Bush used to name him “Bushie,” particularly when she needed to put him in his place.

W’s nicknames, and his personal expertise as a nicknaming sufferer, counsel that he discovered early on their worth as a type of prep school-style hazing. On the identical time, incomes a nickname from the president turned a badge of honor for mid-level staffers within the Bush White House, demonstrating that the president knew them sufficiently to tag them. These included power professional Robert McNally (“Electrical Bob”), marketing campaign private assistant Israel Hernandez (“Altoid Boy”), and second-term speechwriter Jonathan Horn (“Attractive”). One other attainable cause for Bush’s use of nicknames, urged by Indiana College’s Michael Adams, was Bush’s love of baseball, a sport that revels in nice nicknames.

Among the many Bush workers, although, the nicknames had been extra reducing. The vice chairman’s chief of workers David Addington, a sharp-elbowed inner participant, was nicknamed “Keyser Sӧze,” after the ruthless, mysterious mob boss within the 1995 movie The Traditional Suspects. James Comey, then the deputy lawyer basic however already carrying a status for being sanctimonious, was nicknamed “Saint Jim.”


Nicknames abounded even within the “no-drama” Obama administration as properly. Jim Jones, Barack Obama’s first nationwide safety adviser, was annoyed with second-guessing from the Obama crew and left the White House on poor phrases. He used to name younger White House staffers “the water bugs,” and the White House itself “the Politburo.”

Deputy nationwide safety adviser Ben Rhodes was so vital of Israel that his nickname within the White House was “Hamas.” Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett’s propensity for getting her means in coverage disputes by making her case throughout nocturnal visits to her associates Barack and Michelle Obama within the White House residence earned her the nickname “The Evening Stalker.” And Homeland Safety Adviser — and now Biden Deputy Lawyer Normal — Lisa Monaco’s regular stream of dire safety warnings led Obama to dub her “Dr. Doom.”


The Trump administration, nevertheless, put all its predecessors to disgrace in phrases of the sheer quantity of nicknames. Even earlier than the latest books got here out, everybody knew that Trump had insulting nicknames for his political opponents — “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Pocahontas,” “Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco.”

Trump was additionally susceptible to tag his personal crew members with nicknames, some extra constructive than others. Communications director Hope Hicks was “Hopey,” Schooling Secretary Betsy DeVos was “Ditsy” DeVos, chief of workers John Kelly was “The Church Girl,” Deputy Lawyer Normal Rod Rosenstein was “Mr. Peepers,” and RNC head Ronna Romney McDaniel was “My Romney,” distinguishing her from her Trump-critic uncle, Sen. Mitt Romney. Lawyer Normal Jeff Periods was blessed with a number of unflattering nicknames, together with “Mr. Magoo” and “Benjamin Button.”

Former Trump aide Steve Bannon claims that one of Trump’s favourite books is Carl Jung’s autobiography, Reminiscence, Desires, Reflections, and that Trump’s derisive nicknames derive from an understanding of Jungian archetypes. (Trump in all probability didn’t learn the guide however Bannon probably did.)

Trump workers, in all probability inspired by the instance of their principal, additionally dubbed each other with a bunch of nicknames each entertaining and illuminating in a factionalized White House. Kelly reportedly referred to as the youthful Hicks “the excessive schooler.” Kelly Deputy Chief of Employees Kirstjen Nielsen, later the secretary of Homeland Safety, tried to impose stricter self-discipline on White House operations, and was dubbed “Nurse Ratched” for her efforts. One other deputy chief of workers, Zachary Fuentes, earned the moniker “ZOTUS,” a play on the primary letter of his first title and the broadly used White House abbreviation for president of america.

Professional-trade and pro-immigration financial adviser Gary Cohn was tagged “Globalist Gary” by his nationalist rivals; some Trump aides shortened this to an emoji when referring to Cohen through textual content as 🌎. Different aides who obtained the emoji therapy had been Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, referred to as an open mouth, or 😘; and chief of workers Reince Priebus, who was usually referred to as “Prancer,” had a reindeer emoji: 🦌.

Up to now, there have been fewer nicknames to publicly emerge from the Biden administration. There are little doubt tensions and rivalries, together with some recently revealed ones between the presidential and vice presidential staffs, however Biden doesn’t like studying about palace intrigue within the press, so aides are in all probability much less probably to brag about their nicknaming triumphs. As extra time passes, some tell-alls will certainly emerge from this White House with nickname revelations, however they’re unlikely to be as frequent — or as juicy — as those from the Trump memoirs.

What’s clear from the historical past of presidential nicknaming is that there’s extra to it than simply locker room speak. In politics, as in life, nicknames assist encapsulate the essence of an individual, or at the least that’s what the nicknamers hope. Nicknaming within the White House is just not accomplished idly. It has a function, albeit sometimes an disagreeable one. And so long as energy is up for grabs and jealousies are sparked by bold gamers, the nicknames received’t be going wherever.