Talking Trash: 7 Epic Presidential Insults
Jackson said he should’ve hanged his vice president, Truman called Nixon “a no-good lying bastard.”
Trash-talking your political opponent is an American tradition that began long before the age of Twitter. So is talking trash about your vice president, the president who appointed you, or the president you pardoned.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the most memorable disses in presidential history.
1. Jackson reminds everyone that he’s killed before and he’ll do it again.
Andrew Jackson’s only two regrets:“that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.”
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There’s a reason the Broadway musical about our seventh president is called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Before becoming president, he fought in three wars and participated in anywhere from five to 100 duels (estimates vary), including one in which he killed a man. Once president, his Indian Removal Act was responsible for 4,000 Cherokee deaths on the Trail of Tears.
Unsurprisingly, the easily-riled Jackson didn’t get along with everyone during his presidency. Jackson clashed with Senator Henry Clay over the Bank War and had disliked his first vice president John C. Calhoun, who resigned halfway through Jackson’s time in office.
When Jackson left office in 1837, he didn’t sugarcoat his feelings for these men.
2. Someone should’ve told Abe to go easy on the metaphors.
Abraham Lincoln on Stephen Douglas’ policy on slavery: It“is as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.”
Lincoln didn’t win that race, but the publicity he gained during the campaign helped him secure the presidency just a couple years later.
3. Teddy trashes his coworkers.
If it wasn’t obvious, Roosevelt perceived McKinley as a flip-flopper. Awkwardly, Roosevelt became that McKinley’s vice president two years later. And just a few months later, Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency after the man he’d once compared to a French dessert was assassinated.
Teddy’s experience as president didn’t stop him from trashing other ones, either. Using terms that are essentially meaningless today, he called President Woodrow Wilson “a Byzantine logothete backed by flubdubs and mollycoddles.”
4. Truman doesn’t give a damn.
President Harry S. Truman on General Dwight D. Eisenhower: “The General doesn’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday,”
Truman had those choice words for Eisenhower as the general ran for the Republican presidential ticket in 1952. Eight years later, when Eisenhower’s vice president Richard Nixon decided to run for president, Truman denounced Nixon as “a no-good lying bastard,” and told a crowd that anyone who votes for him “ought to go to hell.”
5. Dwight disses VP Nixon during a press conference.
Dwight D. Eisenhower on Richard Nixon contributions as his vice president:“If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.”
Time correspondent Charles H. Mohr was asking Dwight about what Nixon actually did in his administration, and was getting some pushback. Dwight said Nixon “was not a part of decision-making,” and Mohr countered that he must be doing something.
“We understand that the power of decision is entirely yours, Mr. President,” he said. “I just wondered if you could give us an example of a major idea of his that you had adopted in that role, as the decider and final—”
That was when Dwight cut him off, saying he’d need those seven days to think of one.
6. LBJ wants you to know he’s had more sex than Kennedy.
LBJ was one of the crudest presidents in U.S. history. When asked at a press conference why the United States was still in Vietnam, he pulled out his penis and answered, “This is why!” Another time, he let a reporter know he didn’t like his recent article by, as the New York Times puts it, “defecating on the ground in front of him.”
Given this, it’s not terribly surprising that his burns were often scatalogical.
He was also preoccupied with people knowing in what department he was superior to John F. Kennedy, the president he’d served under and succeeded. “When people mentioned Kennedy’s many affairs, Johnson would bang the table and declare that he had more women by accident than Kennedy ever had on purpose,” writes presidential historian Robert Dallek in The Atlantic.
7. Ford perfects the presidential self-own.
Gerald Ford on his own, unpopular pardon: “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”
Like Johnson, Gerald Ford was a vice president who succeeded to commander-in-chief. But unlike Johnson, he didn’t fill the role because the president was dead—he did it because the president had resigned.
Richard Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate scandal was already shocking enough. But then Ford went and pardoned Nixon, preventing him from facing any legal consequences for his actions.