It’s seen by many on the right as a clever way to go after Biden — and viewed as immature and offensive on the left, a reaction that has only amplified its appeal to many on the right. For a Republican Party that can be fractious, it unites factions behind an expression of distaste for the opposing party’s leader, who also happens to be the president.
Unlike most successful political slogans, this one requires considerable explanation: It is a stand-in for the cruder “F--- Joe Biden” chant that has erupted at sports venues and rallies across the country. Other than a vague echo, the connection between the two phrases is not obvious, another part of its appeal.
The White House response, for now at least, is to downplay the slogan. “I don’t think he spends much time focused on it or thinking about it,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday when asked for Biden’s view.
But some Democrats warn that this is a mistake, and they are urging their party to take it more seriously. Even if the slogan may be childish, they say, the passion behind it should not be dismissed.
“They just don’t understand it,” said David Yankovich, a Democratic strategist who guided digital strategy for Doug Jones’s successful 2017 Senate campaign in Alabama. “We can’t keep ignoring things. It’s killing us.”
Corporate America, for its part, is taking notice: Peloton now removes the phrase when it is incorporated into users’ profiles, saying it violates the company’s policy against “divisive” content. The phrase’s origins are tied to a NASCAR race, and the organization’s president, Steve Phelps, has said he’s “not happy” with it.
The “Let’s go Brandon” chant dates to an Oct. 2 trackside interview, conducted by an NBC Sports reporter with NASCAR driver Brandon Brown after he won a race. The crowd was chanting “F--- Joe Biden,” but the reporter heard the chant as “Let’s go Brandon” and wrongly said on air that the crowd was showing its support for the driver.
Some conservatives latched on to the discrepancy, attributing a conspiratorial motive to the mix-up, without evidence, and citing the brief exchange as an attempt by a media outlet to hide dislike for Biden. Greg Hughes, a spokesman for NBC Sports, declined to comment.
In the absence of a White House response, one independent liberal group has fashioned a retort of its own. MeidasTouch, a media firm founded by three brothers under 40, developed the hashtag #thankyoubrandon in an effort to rebrand the phrase.
“Politics is ultimately about people,” said Ben Meiselas, one of the founders. “We want to find ways to engage with people about what the actual facts are. The right-wing echo chamber has insults, and we have facts.”
He launched the online “Thank You Brandon” campaign earlier this month, drawing attention to positive news for the Biden administration, including the more than 530,000 jobs created in October, the soaring stock market and the 195 million-plus Americans who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The phrase, and its cruder cousin, symbolize an intensifying antagonism toward Biden on the right, and an erosion of one of his strengths during the presidential campaign — that unlike more forceful figures, few voters strongly disliked him.
Biden, despite the country’s divisions, began his tenure with a slight majority approving of his performance, but that has changed dramatically. Eighty percent of Republicans now strongly disapprove of how he is handling his job, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, and 45 percent of independents share that negative view.
That is hardly an unusual dynamic for a new president, as an initial grace period hardens into loathing, especially within the opposing party. Biden’s numbers remain much higher among Democrats, of course, though they have fallen as well, from 94 percent approving of his job performance in June to 80 percent today.
Republicans are reveling in expressing their distaste.
At a recent black-tie gala, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) wore a red dress with the words “Let’s go Brandon” on the back. The dress echoed one donned by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) at a recent Met Gala emblazoned with the phrase “Tax the Rich.”
Boebert’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But she posted on social media a photo of herself wearing the dress alongside former president Donald Trump with the caption, “It’s not a phrase, it’s a movement!”
Sean Spicer, Trump’s first White House press secretary, also attended the gala and posted a photo of himself with Boebert showing off her gown on his Instagram. “The dress was the hit of the night,” he said in an interview.
Spicer said the phrase has taken on several meanings, depending on the circumstance.
“This is an amalgamation of everything that’s going on,” Spicer said. “It’s about how the media has been complicit in supporting this administration. It’s about Biden himself. It’s about the left being triggered by everything that’s going on. It’s about cancel culture. It’s about everything rolled into one.”
Democrats have dismissed efforts to frame the slogan as something more than a juvenile taunt, saying its very vacuousness reflects the state of the Republican Party.
Part of the appeal for many conservatives is angering liberals. In an email solicitation for donations, Donald Trump Jr. pitched a $45 T-shirt with the phrase as a way to “further trigger” the left.
Others have latched onto the jokey side of the slogan. Phil Solorzano, owner of a chain of Florida pizzerias, recently began producing a pie with “FJB” spelled out in pepperoni. After photos of the pizzas became an online sensation, he added an “LGB” pizza, saying some customers were looking for a way to protest the president that could be safely posted on social media.
An increase in the price of pepperoni, and labor shortages at his stores, have fueled Solorzano’s dislike for Biden, he said. But he is not above making “FDT” pizzas for those who want to send a message about Trump, he said.
Timothy Naftali, a New York University history professor, said the “Let’s go Brandon” phenomenon is an unusual combination of humor and rancor.
“It does create a sense of kinship and being inside in the in-group. It meets a standard of cool in a certain political community,” said Naftali, who served as founding director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “There is both a hateful and a mirthful side to this. On one hand, it’s kind of mischievous. On the other, it’s a cover for real hate toward Biden.”
It has also broken into pop culture, becoming the theme of several rap songs. One by Loza Alexander plays the original NBC clip repeatedly and includes the line “Go Brandon, but we all know what the saying means.” The song debuted at No. 45 on the “Billboard Hot 100” list and was streamed 1.2 million times in its first week, according to Billboard.com.
Too often, some Democratic strategists said, the party’s leaders respond to such developments by metaphorically rolling their eyes and dismissing the matter as too juvenile to bother with.
Yankovich, the Democratic strategist, compared “Let’s go Brandon” to the way the phrase “basket of deplorables” was used as a rallying cry by the right after Hillary Clinton used it to describe some Trump supporters.
Meiselas, a lawyer who has represented former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, said his group tries to fight back by coming up with viral ways of promoting the Biden administration — such as coining the term “Psaki bomb” to refer to Psaki’s put-downs of provocative questions from reporters.
The growing embrace of “Let’s go Brandon” by the GOP establishment is reflected in a fundraising effort by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party organ that coordinates House races. The NRCC offers three varieties of “Let’s go Brandon” gift-wrap for $25.
“Hurry, get your wrapping paper before we sell out,” the committee says in its pitch, offering a way to bring the political message directly under the Christmas tree.
The phrase can also offer Republicans a more socially acceptable way of registering dislike for Biden, said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. Voters, even in 2020, frequently hid their support for Trump because openly backing him led to social ostracism, he said.
“This may be a way of kind of sharing their support for Trump, antipathy toward Joe Biden, and without wearing it on their sleeve,” Newhouse said.
Some Republicans said the slogan’s spread is little different from the many aggressive expressions of protest by the left during the Trump years. Those included demonstrators wielding hostile slogans, obscene graffiti aimed at Trump and even a comedian posing with a mask awash with red paint intended to represent Trump’s severed head.
Trump, musing about “Let’s go Brandon” at a recent gala at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., focused on the accusation that it originated from a devious effort by the media to protect Biden.
“I still haven’t figured out, was that young, attractive female reporter — was she trying to cover up or was she being nice?” Trump said. “Did she not understand what was happening? She works for NBC, so it’s about 94 percent sure that she knew exactly what she was doing.”
But Trump expressed some ambivalence about the phrase, saying he prefers the cruder version that includes an expletive.
“I still like the first phrase better somehow,” Trump said. “More accurate.”