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WASHINGTON (AP) – When Republican Representative Bill Posey of Florida ended an Oct. 21 speech in the House with a hand pump and the phrase “Let’s go, Brandon!” it may have sounded enigmatic and strange to many who were listening. But the expression was already growing in right-wing circles, and now the seemingly optimistic sentiment – in fact a surrogate for insulting Joe Biden – is everywhere.

South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan wore a “Let’s Go Brandon” face mask on Capitol Hill last week. Texas Senator Ted Cruz posed with a “Let’s Go Brandon” sign at the World Series. Senator Mitch McConnell’s press secretary retweeted a photo of the phrase on a construction sign in Virginia.

The line has become conservative code for something much more vulgar: “F—- Joe Biden.” It’s all the rage with Republicans who want to prove their conservative credentials, a not-so-secret handshake that signals they’re in tune with the party base.

Americans are used to their leaders being publicly taunted, and former President Donald Trump’s often foul language seemed to broaden the boundaries of what counts as normal political speech.

But how did Republicans settle on Brandon’s expression as a G-rated surrogate for his more vulgar three-word cousin?

It all started during a NASCAR race on October 2 at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Brandon Brown, a 28-year-old pilot, had won his first Xfinity series and was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter. The crowd behind him chanted something at first difficult to make out. The reporter suggested that they chanted “Let’s go, Brandon” to encourage the driver. But it became more and more clear that they were saying, “F—- Joe Biden.”

NASCAR and NBC have since taken steps to limit “ambient crowd noise” during interviews, but it was too late – the phrase had already taken off.

When the president visited a construction site in suburban Chicago a few weeks ago to promote his mandate to vaccinate or test, protesters rolled out the two three-word sentences. Last week, Biden’s motorcade passed a “Let’s Go Brandon” banner as the President passed through Plainfield, New Jersey.

And a group chanted “Let’s go, Brandon” outside a Virginia park on Monday when Biden made an appearance on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. Two protesters have given up on the euphemism altogether, holding up hand-drawn placards with profanity.

On Friday morning, on a flight from southwest Houston to Albuquerque, the pilot signed his salute over the sound system with the phrase, to the audible gasps of some passengers. Southwest said in a statement that the airline “takes pride in providing a welcoming, comfortable and respectful environment” and that “the behavior of anyone who is divisive or offensive is not tolerated.”

Seasoned GOP ad creator Jim Innocenzi had no qualms about coded rawness, calling it “hilarious.”

“Unless you live in a cave you know what that means,” he said. “But it’s done with a little class. And if you object to it and take it too seriously, go.

American presidents have endured wickedness for centuries; Grover Cleveland faced chants of “Ma, Ma, where’s my daddy?” In the 1880s because of rumors that he had fathered an illegitimate child. Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were the subject of poems that relied on racist tropes and claims of bigamy.

“We have a sense of the dignity of the office of President which has always been violated to our horror throughout American history,” said Cal Jillson, political expert and professor in the Department of Political Science at Southern Methodist University. . “We never fail to be horrified by yet another outrage.”

There were plenty of old insults.

“F—- Trump” graffiti still marks many overpasses in Washington, DC George W. Bush had a shoe thrown in his face. Bill Clinton has been criticized with such fervor that his most outspoken critics have been called “Clinton lunatics.”

The biggest difference, however, between the sentiments leveled against the Grover Clevelands of old and modern politicians is the amplification they get on social media.

“Before the expansion of social media a few years ago, there was no readily accessible public forum to shout out your meanest and darkest public opinions,” said Matthew Delmont, professor of history at Dartmouth. Middle School.

Even the racism and vitriol to which former President Barack Obama was subjected were tempered in part because Twitter was relatively new. There was no TikTok. As for Facebook, leaked corporate documents recently revealed how the platform increasingly ignored hate speech and disinformation and allowed it to proliferate.

Part of the United States was already angry before Brandon’s moment, believing the 2020 presidential election to have been rigged despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, which has stood the test of recounts and court cases. But now it’s more than that for die-hard Trump supporters, said Stanley Renshon, a political scientist and psychoanalyst at the City University of New York.

He cited the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the situation on the southern border, and heated debates by school boards as situations in which Biden’s critics believe that “the way American institutions tell the American public what they see clearly and understand to be true, is in fact not true ”.

Trump did not miss the moment. His Save America PAC now sells a t-shirt for $ 45 with “Let’s go Brandon” above an American flag. A message to supporters read: “#FJB or LET’S GO BRANDON? Either way, President Trump wants YOU to have our new ICONIC shirt. ”

Separately, t-shirts appear in shop windows with the NASCAR slogan and logo.

And when it comes to the real Brandon, things haven’t been so good. He drives for a short-staffed and under-funded team owned by his father. And while that victory – his first career victory – was huge for him, the team struggled for sponsorship for a long time and existing partners haven’t marketed the pilot since the slogan.

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Associated Press editors Aamer Madhani, Mary Clare Jalonick, Brian Slodysko and Will Weissert in Washington, and Jenna Fryer in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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