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Trump Is Too Woke to Call DeSantis ‘Meatball Ron’

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

For a guy who claims to spend zero time thinking about nasty nicknames for his opponents, Donald Trump sure is talking about them a lot. He has been calling his likely 2024 rival Ron DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious” for months, but he doesn’t seem set on it. On February 12, the New York Times reported that Trump has been using different insults for the Florida governor in private conversations, “describing him as ‘Meatball Ron,’ an apparent dig at his appearance, or ‘Shutdown Ron,’ a reference to restrictions the governor put in place at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Meatball Ron! The more I thought about it, the more I loved the nickname. It has all the makings of a great Trumpian insult: It’s funny, biting, goofy, and vaguely naughty. I wrote a piece praising “Meatball Ron” as far superior to “Ron DeSanctimonious,” which doesn’t roll off the tongue or work with Trump’s latest DeSantis smear. I assumed that the former president would never read this, as he once called New York a “piece of garbage” and he’d just declared on Truth Social that finding the right DeSantis moniker is actually “a very unimportant subject to me!!!”

But it seems the topic actually is keeping Trump up at night. At 1 a.m on Saturday morning, he officially ruled out “Meatball Ron.”

Maybe this is my fault. Trump can’t use a DeSantis nickname that the “Fake News” openly enjoys. Or perhaps the problem is that Trump has gone “woke.” How else could he come to the conclusion that “Meatball Ron” is “totally inappropriate”? Trump referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” throughout his entire term and once used the slur at a White House event commemorating the achievements of World War II Native American code talkers. Just last year, he started referring to his Taiwanese-born former Department of Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, as Mitch McConnell’s “China-loving wife, Coco Chow.” Both of these nicknames are tired, unfunny, and quite offensive. But now Trump is worried about “meatball”?

The beauty of “Meatball Ron” is that it seems a bit provocative but no one can say exactly why. Urban Dictionary’s top definition for meatball is “fat narcissist, especially one prone to deception and theft.” So it’s a jab at DeSantis’s character and weight? Urban Dictionary also says, “Meatball is a term to describe a rather dumb person … they usually lack common sense.” Perhaps Trump is just calling DeSantis stupid?

The most objectionable read of meatball is that it’s an attack on DeSantis’s Italian heritage. As an Italian American myself, I see how some could find the term offensive, but I think that’s debatable. A recent study of slurs for Italian Americans lists several far viler insults, and meatball doesn’t even come up. The term is in a grey area — like “Fredo.” When Chris Cuomo was hit with the Godfather-related jab in 2019, he claimed it was an insult to Italians, while Don Jr. countered, plausibly, that it “just means you’re the dumb brother.”

There was a time when Donald Trump would have relished setting off such a stupid public debate, but now he has gone soft. Or he could be backtracking, because he has realized that “Meatball Ron” is just too good. Last week, Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley argued, convincingly, that it’s “practically a gift” to DeSantis: The culture of Italian Americans has been so widely embraced that being associated with the delicious, down-to-earth food could boost the awkward, Yale- and Harvard-educated governor’s popularity among GOP voters.

Whatever the real reason, “Meatball Ron” is tragically DOA. And that means we’re going to be subjected to many more months of Trump workshopping nonsensical clunkers like “Ron DeSanctus.”

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Trump Is Too Woke to Call DeSantis ‘Meatball Ron’