How A Dank Meme Turned Into 'Dark Brandon' (And Muted MAGA)

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How A Dank Meme Turned Into 'Dark Brandon' (And Muted MAGA)

President Joe Biden as 'Dark Brandon'

Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY 2.0

When MAGA Republicans first stumbled into the meme "Let's Go Brandon!"—a euphemism for "Fuck Joe Biden!"—it was electric.

The meme’s origin stems from a misunderstanding. During an October 2021 NASCAR race, an on-air NBC News reporter suggested the crowd was chanting "Let's go, Brandon" for Brandon Brown, who had just won the day’s race. It quickly became clear that was not the case.

Suddenly, the MAGA movement had a G-rated code for relaying how they really felt. “Let's Go Brandon” showed up on bumper stickers, at campaign rallies, even in chants at some events featuring President Biden. Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Florida used it to punctuate a speech he delivered on the House floor—an easy way to score political points.

MAGA’s demented delight in the phrase might have peaked on Christmas Eve 2021, when Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, were fielding caller questions on NORAD's Santa tracker hotline. After a perfectly pleasant interaction with the president and the first lady, one caller, a 35-year-old father, ended the conversation with "Merry Christmas and Let's Go Brandon."

Jill Biden gave an uncomfortable chuckle as President Biden sought to further engage the caller, who either hung up or had been disconnected.

But Let's Go Brandon has ultimately suffered an unusual fate. By the second half of 2022, the meme had been largely co-opted by the left, becoming a new meme known as “Dark Brandon,” which centers on a grinning, laser-eyed portrayal of the president. As Don Caldwell, general manager of the meme-tracking site Know Your Meme, explained to The Daily Beast in an August 2022 article, the “Dark Brandon” meme suggests that Biden only seems like a hapless elderly man.

“It’s revealed that he’s pulling the strings behind the scenes and that everything’s going to plan,” Caldwell said.

In many ways, it's a new take on a Saturday Night Live sketch from the 1980s in which comedian Phil Hartman portrayed then-President Ronald Reagan as a doddering old man in public who shifted into a ball-busting mastermind behind closed doors. Only today, the president is on the joke.

And as “Dark Brandon” has risen, Republicans' own “Brandon” chants have practically gone mute. In other words, Democrats stole Republicans' thunder—and they did it with a gamely assist from the White House.

According to The Daily Beast's reporting:

The Biden press shop had noticed the rise in Dark Brandon content online and decided to lean into the meme as the president capped off a successful stretch, a White House official told The Daily Beast. Dealing with Trump and Republicans during and after the 2020 campaign convinced the Biden team that mockingly embracing the other side’s online attacks could have a strategic advantage.

But the more fun the Democrats have had with Dark Brandon, the more the meme has evolved and the richer it has become.

After Senate Democrats finally passed Biden's signature Inflation Reduction Act on Aug. 7, 2022, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates tweeted out, "Dark Brandon is crushing it."

Fun, yes, but nothing compared to the Dark Brandon troll to end all trolls following the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl win this past Sunday. In the lead-up to the game, some right-wing fever dream had birthed the idea that President Biden was conspiring with Taylor Swift and her boyfriend, the Chiefs' star tight end Travis Kelce, to rig the Super Bowl and eventually leverage a Swift endorsement of Biden to win reelection.

After the Chiefs' come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers, President Biden tweeted out a picture of old laser-eyes himself accompanied by the message, "Just like we drew it up."

Who’s laughing now?

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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