President Trump has been signaling a plan to attack Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as radical socialists and Joe Biden as corrupt. Now that Michael Bloomberg has appeared on the president’s radar, Trump’s emerging plan has come into view: He plans to discredit Bloomberg on the basis of height. In a series of post-midnight tweets, Trump repeated his nickname “Mini Mike,” and an obviously false charge that Bloomberg demanded a box to stand on during the Democratic debate, in an attempt to turn the taunts into an “issue” that the media will have to cover:
He repeats the charge in his pre–Super Bowl interview with his assistant, Sean Hannity:
Before we all move on to accepting this state of affairs as the background reality of Trump-era politics, it is worth a moment to reflect on the fact that the president of the United States is currently planning a potential reelection campaign centered on the theme that his opponent is too short.
Height has no doubt factored into politics before, because people can be shallow. The taller presidential candidate has often, though not always, won. But the way height has worked is as an unstated, visual contrast. No candidate has previously attempted to make height an explicit voting issue.
And for good reason: Even a child understands there is no relationship between height and the ability to serve as president. Unlike his allegations that Biden helped enrich his son, or that Warren advanced her career by identifying as a Native American — both of which are false — the Bloomberg insult lacks even the most threadbare element of substance. He is literally making his opponent’s immutable physical trait his central argument.
Trump, of course, has mocked various antagonists for their height before. He relentlessly bullied Marco Rubio (“L-I-D-D-L-E. Liddle, Liddle, Liddle Marco.”), Adam Schiff, Pete Buttigieg, and (since at least 2016) Bloomberg himself, among others. He also reportedly refused to reappoint Janet Yellen to a second term as Federal Reserve chair because, among other things, he considered her too short and therefore lacking the telegenic qualities he sought in the position. What he hasn’t done before is make this the centerpiece of a campaign, which — as the diligence of his abuse against Bloomberg indicates — appears to be his intent if Bloomberg wins the nomination.
Trump “has made clear he will paint former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as corrupt if he faces him in the fall and will assail other possible Democratic challengers as socialists,” the New York Times reported recently. Having apparently ruled out both socialism and corruption as lines of attack against a potential Bloomberg candidacy, he has settled on a lack of height.
To be sure, Bloomberg himself is calling attention to Trump’s own superficial foibles. A new Bloomberg ad that shows Trump in his golf attire, looking fat and clumsy, has run on the cable-news shows Trump watches obsessively and probably instigated the president’s latest binge of enraged late-night tweets. And Trump’s campaign has, along with denying Trump’s concocted “debate-box” charge, thrown in more insults of his appearance:
Trump’s Democratic opponents have typically shrugged off his bullying by placing themselves above it — hoping that by acting more presidential, they would make him look more childish. Bloomberg’s calculation is that, if Trump is going to mock the physical appearance of his opponents, it is worth pointing out that his own appearance is completely ridiculous.