Donald Trump Mocks Joe Biden’s Stutter

Former President Donald Trump, perhaps threatened by President Joe Biden’s well-received State of the Union address, mocked his opponent’s lifelong stutter at a rally in Georgia yesterday. “Wasn’t it—didn’t it bring us together?” Trump asked sarcastically. He kept the bit going, slipping into a Biden caricature. “‘I’m gonna bring the country tuh-tuh-tuh-together,’” Trump said, straining and narrowing his mouth for comedic effect.

Trump has made a new habit of this. “‘He’s a threat to d-d-democracy,’” Trump said in his vaudeville Biden character at a January rally in Iowa. That jibe was also a response to a big Biden speech—one tied to the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection. (Guess who the he was in that sentence.)

More than Trump’s ugly taunt, one thing stands out to me about these moments: the sound of Trump’s supporters laughing right along with him. This is a building block of Trumpism. The man at the top gives his followers permission to be the worst version of themselves.

I was on my way to meet friends last night when someone texted me a link to Trump’s latest fake-stuttering clip. I am a lifelong stutterer, and as I rode the subway, holding my phone up to my ear, out came that old familiar mockery—like Adam Sandler in Billy Madison saying, “Tuh-tuh-tuh-today, junior!” Only this time the taunt was coming from a 77-year-old man.

Stuttering is one of many disabilities to have entered Trump’s crosshairs. In 2015, he infamously made fun of a New York Times reporter’s disabled upper-body movements. Three years later, as president, when planning a White House event for military veterans, he asked his staff not to include amputees wounded in combat, saying, “Nobody wants to see that.” Stuttering is a neurological disorder that affects roughly 3 million Americans. Biden has stuttered since childhood. He has worked to manage his disfluent speech for decades, but, contrary to the story he tells about his life, he has never fully “beat” it.

As I noted in 2019 when I first wrote about Biden’s relationship to his stutter, living with this disorder is by no means a quest for pity. And having a stutter is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for any verbal flub. Sometimes, when Biden mixes up a name, date, or fact, he is doing just that: making a mistake, and his stutter is not the reason. I am among those who believe the balance of Biden’s stuttering to non-stuttering-related verbal issues has shifted since I interviewed him five years ago.

And yet, Biden can still come off confident, conversational, and lucid. Although he’s not a naturally gifted orator like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, he can still be an effective public speaker—someone who, as my colleague Jennifer Senior noted, understands “the connect.” Notably, he can find a way to do all of the above while still periodically stuttering, as he proved during his State of the Union speech. Depending on the day, his voice might be booming or it might be shaky. He may go long stretches of time without interruption, or visibly and audibly repeat certain sounds in a classic stutter formation. Such moments are outside of Biden’s control, as they are for any stutterer, which makes them an appealing pressure point for Trump, the bully.

For a time, Trump exercised a modicum of restraint around this topic. As I once wrote, Trump was probably wise enough to realize that, to paraphrase Michael Jordan, Republicans stutter too. (Including Trump’s friend Herschel Walker, who has his place on the Stuttering Foundation’s website, along with Biden.) During the 2020 election, Trump wouldn’t go right for the jugular with the S-word. Instead, at his final campaign events, he would play a sizzle reel of Biden’s vocal stumbles, looking up at the screen and laughing at Biden along with the crowd. Back then, Trump left most of the direct stuttering vitriol to his allies and family. “Joe, can you get it out? Let’s get the words out, Joe,” his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, said at a Women for Trump event. She’s now RNC co-chair.

Watching this new clip brought me back to my conversation with Biden five years ago. At the time, I asked him whether he thought Trump would one day nickname him “St-St-St-Stuttering Joe.” If Trump were to go there, Biden told me, “it’ll just expose him for what he is.”

Trump has now definitively gone there. What has that exposed? Only what we already knew: Trump may be among the most famous and powerful people in modern history, but he remains a small-minded bully. He mocks Biden’s disability because he believes the voters will reward him for it—that there is more to be gained than lost by dehumanizing his rival and the millions of other Americans who stutter, or who go through life managing other disorders and disabilities. I would like to believe that more people are repulsed than entertained, and that Trump has made a grave miscalculation. We have eight more months of this until we find out.

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