You may recall that in early May, as part of an ill-advised attempt to give him a taste of his own medicine after calling Hillary Clinton “crooked Hillary,” Democratic party operatives and Clinton herself began referring to Donald Trump as “Dangerous Donald.” The epithet—if you can even call it one—was met with ridicule almost immediately, and, according to leaked emails, the DNC noticed.
On Thursday, May 5, the DNC sent an email blast to senior staff and surrogates outlining the “Dangerous Donald Trump Narrative.” “For your framing purposes, here’s our narrative guide for how to talk about Trump,” communications director Luis Miranda wrote. The guide includes zingers like: “Donald Trump’s recklessness would hurt our economy, diminish our standing in the world, and make our communities less safe. Trump is dangerous, and he lacks the judgment or temperament to be president.”
The DNC had used the phrase previously, in emails to subscriber lists, but this appears to have been the moment at which it entered the public vocabulary. “Dangerous Donald is Twitter trending for me (and presumably folks who follow lots of reporters),” one communications staffer, TJ Helmstetter, wrote, in an email to colleagues on May 6.
One minute later, in response to an email blast with the headline “Dangerous Donald’s impact on our schools” sent to the communications team for approval, Helmstetter asked, “Can we not use that subject line? We got a lot of hell on reporter twitter yesterday for using Dangerous Donald repeatedly.”
“Dangerous Donald is good. Let them complain,” Luis Miranda, communications director for the DNC, responded. “Trump won’t stop trying to call HRC Crooked, we shouldn’t blink cause a couple reporters get snarky.”
“Was more than a couple,” Helmstetter replied.
Reporter Twitter is composed of terrible people with terrible opinions about mostly everything. In this, however, they were right: “Dangerous Donald” is not good; in fact, it is bad. And, despite Miranda’s apparent commitment to the moniker, he seems to have been overruled: Before the “schools” email, the DNC had used “Dangerous Donald” in the subject lines of eight email blasts to supporters; the “schools” email was the last. And, after an initial spike in early May, a Google Trends search shows, the phrase has hardly been used by anyone at all.
On May 9, DNC national press secretary Mark Paustenbach forwarded a Huffington Post email newsletter to Miranda, pointing out the subject line, which called for the inventors of “Dangerous Donald” to be tried for war crimes. A little over a week later, on May 20, Miranda—who did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Gawker—forwarded that day’s edition of NBC News’ “First Read” email newsletter to Paustenbach. The newsletter read:
Risky Business: Why calling Trump “risky” won’t work for Democrats
Earlier this week while campaigning in Kentucky, Hillary Clinton slammed Donald Trump for being “a loose cannon” and for his “risky” talk. She said, “I’ve never heard such reckless, risky talk from somebody about to be a nominee for president than I’ve heard from Donald Trump when it comes to nuclear weapons.” But there’s a downside for calling someone risky — you’re suggesting that he brings some potential benefits, too. As Guy Cecil, who’s heading the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA, told Politico: “I frankly don’t think ‘risky’ captures it, because ‘risk’ implies potential upside.”
“Clear endorsement for our ‘Dangerous’ over HFA’s ‘risky,’” Miranda wrote. (“HFA” refers to Hillary for America, the official Clinton campaign.) This is pretty clearly not what the email says, but then even DNC staffers will go to extraordinary lengths to try to make their coworkers think they’re right.