Since he declared his candidacy for the presidency, no group has been deemed “stupid” by Donald Trump more frequently than America’s “leaders.” There are “stupid people” running the country, he said over and over and over again on the campaign trail — making stupid deals with Iran and stupid deals on trade. Everyone in charge was dumb and he wasn’t — except that he was stupid for self-funding his campaign. That, in broad strokes, was Trump’s rhetoric in 2015 and 2016.
But that wasn’t the full extent of it. When Trump tweeted disparagement of LeBron James and CNN’s Don Lemon Friday night, it was a reminder that Trump often divides the world into two groups: those who are stupid (or dumb or “dummies” or “low IQ”) and those who aren’t. It was also a reminder that, of late, Trump has often chosen to describe as stupid people who are not white.
That wasn’t always the case. Before the presidential election, Trump mostly disparaged white people as stupid.
Of course, back then, his political opponents were mostly white people: those running against him in the Republican primary and the conservative establishment broadly opposed to his candidacy. He called Karl Rove, former George W. Bush adviser, stupid five times, including in interviews. Bloomberg’s Tim O’Brien, whom Trump once sued unsuccessfully for alleged libel, earned the description three times, as did television host Glenn Beck.
Since President Trump’s inauguration, though, that has changed.
This year alone, Trump has referred to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) as “low IQ,” a pejorative that is generally reserved for her, seven times. (Two exceptions: He speculated that the man behind the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 might have been “low IQ,” and he used the term to describe actor Robert De Niro after De Niro insulted him.) His tweet about Lemon on Friday was the third time he has described Lemon as unintelligent.
There is one consistent theme to Trump’s use of the term that the preceding paragraph should make obvious: Stupid people are the ones who criticize and oppose him. In the primaries, that was mostly people from his own party. Afterward, that has been less likely to be the case.
Bear in mind: This topic covers only instances of Trump referring to individual people as unintelligent. He has used a variety of other terms to insult a broad range of people in the past. James, for his part, responded to Trump’s attempt to revoke a White House invitation to the Golden State Warriors in September with an insult of his own.
While Trump often referred to America’s leadership as stupid on the campaign trail, he generally didn’t use the term to refer to President Barack Obama. He did in June 2016, though.
“I believe [Hillary Clinton’s] got less talent than Obama, she has less natural ability than Obama, and I’m not saying he has much, because he doesn’t,” Trump said during a speech in Redding, Calif. “But he’s got an agenda, folks, because he has to have an agenda. Because nobody can be so stupid and nobody can make deals like this guy is making.”
A few months later, after Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia, Trump used Twitter to praise someone’s intelligence.
It wasn’t Obama.