early and often

Why Trump Nicknamed Letitia James ‘Peekaboo’: 6 Theories

Photo: YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

“Low-Energy Jeb.” “Lyin’ Ted.” “Liddle Marco.” “Crooked Hillary.” During the 2016 election, Donald Trump came to be known as a master of stupid-yet-biting nicknames based on these classics. But for years, his moniker game has been in decline. During the 2020 election, he waffled about whether he should rebrand “Sleepy” Joe Biden as “Swampy Joe” or “Creepy Joe,” and tossed out some lazy, forgettable names for various other nemeses (e.g., “Pencil Neck” Adam Schiff, “Goofy” Elizabeth Warren, and “Crazy” Nancy Pelosi).

Recently, Trump’s nicknaming has deteriorated to the point that it’s often unclear what his insult even means. It’s fallen on journalists like myself to explain why Mitch McConnell is now “Old Crow” (or “Broken Old Crow” and sometimes even “Old Broken-Down Crow) and McConnell’s wife and Trump’s former Transportation secretary is Elaine “Coco” Chao.

Now Trump has dropped another clunker. For months, he’s been calling New York Attorney General Letitia James “racist”; as New York’s Jonathan Chait explained, Trump wanted to convey that it’s “unfair for Black prosecutors to charge [his] crimes.” But on September 21, the day James sued Trump and his children, accusing them of “staggering” financial fraud, he dropped a new nasty name for James on Truth Social.

Trump has repeatedly tried to make the moniker stick, most recently in a November 2 “truth” explaining why he is suing to shield his revocable trust from James.

So why is James now “Peekaboo”? No one really knows, but here are the leading theories.

It’s an intentional allusion to a racist term.

The most popular explanation among Twitter and Reddit users is that Trump wanted to call James a racist insult that rhymes with “peekaboo” and starts with a “J.” Some insisted that he “knows exactly what he’s saying.”

On the other hand, Newsweek notes that term is “archaic,” and former Trump fixer Michael Cohen thinks the “J-word” is “not an option.” While Cohen has testified before Congress that Trump is a “racist,” he told Insider that “there’s no chance” Trump would use such an obvious (near) racial slur against James in public.

It’s a an autocorrect error (for a racist term).

Some suggested that Trump actually did want to use the “J-word” itself, but he was blocked by autocorrect.

It’s a good guess, but evidence is stacking up against this theory. First, according to Newsweek, autocorrect doesn’t swap “Peekaboo” for the racist term on Apple or Android devices, Second, if the first incident was a mistake, Trump is sticking with it. He “truthed” the term twice more on September 22, a day after its debut.

And again on October 2.

He even repeated it out loud several times at at a rally in North Carolina on September 23. He said “Letitia ‘Peekaboo’ James,” slowly and seriously, as if it was her full legal name.

It’s something about a surprise.

“Peekaboo” is defined as “appearing briefly and then vanishing or promising to appear but failing to do so.” Maybe it’s some allusion to how James has been reappearing in the media to discuss her efforts to nail Trump for years, promising a lawsuit would appear … and now it has? Despite efforts by some online Trump defenders to provide a non-incendiary explanation, straightforward readings of “Peekaboo” don’t really make sense.

It’s sexual innuendo.

Insider says an “X-rated theory” has “floated around AG circles, which references some of the more graphic definitions of peekaboo from Urban Dictionary.”

Urban Dictonary does provide several disgusting sex-related options, but it’s still unclear why Trump would use the term in reference to James — and Cohen says he doubts Trump is familiar with such lingo anyway.

“There’s no way in the world that Donald Trump knows the Urban Dictionary,” Cohen told Insider. “Considering he doesn’t even know the English dictionary.” Zing!

Trump isn’t well.

Okay, so what’s Cohen’s theory of the case? “My opinion? He has dementia,” he told Insider. “Especially with the additional stress that is now on top of him.” He went on to offer his own very speculative version of the “surprise” theory:

He thinks an “impaired” Trump may have been reaching for a metaphor to describe the failed, pre-lawsuit settlement negotiations with James’ office.

Perhaps, Cohen theorized, Trump believed James had toyed with him as they haggled over a potential dollar-figure that could have made the lawsuit go away before it was filed.

Trump is being cryptic for the LOLs.

There isn’t enough evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Trump’s new nickname for James is racist. But if — like James in the Trump fraud suit — we’re going by the “preponderance of the evidence,” it seems pretty racist.

Yet much like Senator Rick Scott, “I hope no one is racist.” So my own theory is that Trump is taking a page from the Taylor Swift playbook, planting puzzles and Easter eggs in his material to entertain die-hard fans (and himself) as he prepares to drop his next project. No one knows what “Peekaboo” means, but it sure is provocative!

This post has been updated.

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Why Trump Nicknamed Letitia James ‘Peekaboo’: 6 Theories