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Donald Trump as ‘Cheeto Jesus,’ and the political legacy of a dusty orange snack

For a presidential candidate who’s so effective at applying derisive nicknames to his opponents, Donald Trump has proven difficult to tar with a moniker of his own. Sure, he’s “The Donald,” which predates his candidacy, and “Drumpf,” bestowed upon him by John Oliver, but none of them have truly stuck, which must be particularly frustrating to the likes of Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted and Little Marco. 

But after one Republican consultant’s tweetstorm Thursday, a new nickname has begun to go viral to the delight of Democrats, #NeverTrump Republicans and Internet pranksters alike. In a 10-tweet outburst against Trump and his own party, Rick Wilson wrote: “This weekend, people were lined up hundreds deep to give blood to the victims of Orlando. Your Cheeto Jesus was praising himself.”

And a good, old-fashioned meme was born. People quickly snatched up various Cheeto Jesus Twitter handles. Photoshoppers went wild.

For those in the #NeverTrump camp, it might be the best nickname yet, and not just because of how well it evokes the candidate’s hue. Wilson isn’t taking credit for coining it: He saw it somewhere on Twitter a year ago, but he can’t recall where.

“I’ve road-tested a ton of different insults for Donald Trump, and this is the one that seems to have a little bite to it,” he said. (It’s true: The man once called Trump an “epic douche-canoe” on CNN.) The nickname captures the “Weird affectation of this guy, with his fake skin and his fake hair” as well as the “Creepy, messianic … Jonestown aspect of his followers,” said Wilson.

A Cheeto, as it turns out, is an evocative metaphor, and politicians and activists across the spectrum bring up the dusty orange snack when they want to conjure up a certain image of their opponents: That they’re junky, artificial, bad for you, bad for America and likely to leave you with crumby fingers and a weird aftertaste.

In 2013, Sen. Al Franken compared climate denialism to Cheetos. “Don’t get me wrong, Cheetos are a delicious snack, and can and should be eaten in moderation,” said Franken. “If 98 out of 100 doctors tell me I’ve got a problem, I should take their advice. And if those two other doctors get paid by Big Snack Food, like certain climate deniers get paid by Big Coal, I shouldn’t take their advice.”

Republicans have used the Cheeto metaphor against their own. In 2012 Joe Scarborough blasted conservative bloggers as being lazy, good for nothing Cheeto-eaters. “You can stay in your mother’s basement, you can eat your Cheetos, you can type on your dirty laptop, that’s all you got. But you are not the future of the Republican Party, so keep screaming at your walls downstairs, your day is done.”

They’ve also used it against politicians. Former Speaker John Boehner, another visibly bronzed lawmaker, was called “The Crying Cheeto” by the Free Republic, a conservative internet forum. Jon Stewart joked that Boehner “farts Cheeto dust.”

But the Trump-Cheeto connection is particularly cutting. Glenn Beck once rubbed Cheetos on his face for a Trump impression. When Trump boasted about the size of his manhood, John Oliver compared it to a Cheeto. It works on two levels, because Cheetos are something the man probably eats: his love of junk food and McDonald’s has been widely reported.

The world is Trump’s oyster, but he prefers Filet-O-Fish

Perhaps preferring to stay out of politics, Frito-Lay, the company that produces Cheetos, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Frito-Lay and its parent company, Pepsi, have donated to both Republican and Democratic races in previous election cycles, and this year, Pepsi gave $35,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association.  

In fact, Frito-Lay has backed one politician who doesn’t mind being compared to a Cheeto. In a publicity stunt last year, the brand sent its “spokes-cheetah,” Chester Cheetah, to run for mayor of Chester, Montana. A press release said “The fun-loving feline is giving Americans hungry for something new to chew on this election cycle — a bipartisan, if not cheesy way, to have some fun with politics. That’s why he’s rallying voters to be ‘through with the red vs. blue’ and instead go orange with the Orange Party. Led by Chester, the Orange Party is seeking to put the party back into party politics through a little bit of mischief and a whole lot of cheese.”

Chester, if it needs to be said, did not win. It remains unclear whether or not his Cheeto successor for the highest office in the land will triumph. And in the meantime, the nickname seems to be sticking. 

“I think it’s going to cling to him like the dust of 100 bags of snack food,” said Wilson.