While Rabbi Marvin Hier was speaking to a half-empty National Mall at Donald Trump’s inauguration, an MSNBC cameraman zoomed in on our senile president’s face, and it was, somehow, not the most embarrassing image on the screen.
A few rows behind him stood Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a man who once did the cha-cha to “God Bless Texas” on Dancing With the Stars, and is no stranger to making an ass out of himself on live television. With the facial expression of someone trying to think unsexy thoughts to make oneself less inappropriately horny, Perry egregiously gnawed on a piece of gum, keeping both his lips and eyes sewn shut—until Hier delivered the line, “a nation’s wealth is measured by her values and not by her faults.” At that moment, Perry opened his mouth to blow the bubble equivalent of a shart.
When Perry decided to indulge on a wad during the inauguration, he made it clear that he’s unaware of the key factors that play into blowing the perfect bubble with your gum: its actual composition, the duration you’ve been chewing on it, and how skilled you are at making your lips resemble a tight butthole, among a handful of external factors. But he was also too deep in ecstasy to care. Slobbing on that knob, Perry’s spirit transcended his body, leaving his moving mandible to rub in our faces what is now an unavoidable fact: Gum has become the unofficial mascot of the Republican party. It is the one unifying factor in an otherwise fractured, flailing faction.
In August 2016, a report from the Washington Post revealed our head gum boy: then-chief strategist Sean Spicer admitted to swallowing 35 sticks of heartburn-inducing Orbitz cinnamon gum every day by noon, like the hungry baby bird he is. Putting on his big boy pants, he asked his doctor if it’s okay if he swallow something intended to be spit out, to which his doctor responded, “no problem.”
“This is the face of today’s Republican Party,” the article declared. If we’re talking about their most beloved oral fixation, it’s true.
In a 2010 blog on The Daily Caller, the website Tucker Carlson launched when he found himself without a job at 40 years old, a man named Sean Medlock (who uses the pseudonym Jim Treacher for “‘branding’ purposes”) published what appears to be his first post ever. In it, Treacher doxxes his boss’s nicotine gum obsession. During the hiring process, Treacher wrote that Carlson “[chews] enough nicotine gum to fuel a dozen AA meetings,” and refers to the “nicotine gum deal” as “ongoing.”
“I wouldn’t say Tucker chews the stuff nonstop, because sometimes it’s tough to get it around that huge dip of Skoal,” Treacher writes. “I’m actually earning overtime pay by feeding him Nicorette while he sleeps.”
One might assume that Carlson would hide such a habit, but instead, he seems to be extremely proud of it. In 2012, a profile in The Washingtonian called Carlson “a slave to Nicorette,” and said that “he used to order expired Nicorette from eBay but stopped after it began to make him feel funny.” When the reporter asked him if he chews more than a package a day, he answered: “I don’t deny myself.” This April, he told Kelefa Sanneh at The New Yorker that he now buys his nicotine gum in bulk—“from New Zealand, where it is sold in satisfactorily easy-to-open packaging.”
(Related: Carlson interviewed Britney Spears on Crossfire in 2003, and he later told Anderson Cooper that he was annoyed that she had been chewing gum while they spoke. We can only assume because it triggered his insatiable appetite for one of his own sticks.)
The above evidence paints a picture of a Carlson who chewed (chews) gum fairly constantly at Fox News, but that’s not a luxury the network’s women were afforded. While Elisabeth Hasselbeck celebrated her one-year anniversary as a host of Fox & Friends in September 2014, co-host Brian Kilmeade gave her a present in a shiny floral gift bag; inside were handwarmers and two packs of Orbit spearmint gum, the latter which Kilmeade held up to Hasselback like a young lad showing his mother his first report card.
“I’m not able to chew gum because you don’t like the gum-chewing,” Hasselbeck said to Kilmeade. Co-host Steve Doocy chimed in: “Now in the second year, you can chew gum.” She appeared visibly honored and proclaimed this to be “a big step.” One year later, Hasselbeck left the show and thanked the accused sexual harasser and blatant misogynist Fox News Chief Roger Ailes, who did us all a favor and died last week, for “[creating] the best working environment a woman and mother could ask for.”
And speaking of disingenuous claims about work environments hospitable to mothers, the oral fixation goes all the way to the top, peaking with none other than daddy’s little apologist, Ivanka. She has, in her apartment, a painting by Dan Colen; it is entirely made of chewed gum of all colors, shapes, and sizes, pressed haphazardly against a surface. There are baby blue pieces stretched to the point of transparency, gently smashed balls of lime green and lemon yellow, and even the occasional boring placement of a white wad. All globs have retained their vibrancy and were obviously manipulated while in their most malleable state—a sign that the chewers plucked each wad from their mouth just moments after the gum transformed from cube or stick to slobbery rubber. (According to Artnews, Colen is one of Ivanka’s absolute favorites.)
“We don’t buy art that we don’t love and we only buy something if we BOTH love it and want to live with it,” she told Artsy in 2013. It can therefore be assumed that Jared Kushner loves the gum tableau as well. In 2015, Sotheby’s auctioned off one of Colen’s gum paintings, which it gave a value of between $60,000 and $80,000—much more than the average pack of Trident, but to Ivanka, worth it. Perfectly curated and with a worth that’s four times the annual income on the federal minimum wage, the painting is symbolic of her family’s ideal melting pot.
Though especially pervasive today, the right’s love of gum is no new obsession. A New York Times story from August 1892 reported that at a Republican convention for Ohio’s 20th Congressional district, the party nominated William J. White, a millionaire chewing-gum manufacturer, for Congress on the first ballot. The story, titled “Chewing Gum Wins the Day,” hints at how White won over the district: “For weeks [he spent] money with great liberality and distributed gum among the farmers’ wives and daughters without limit,” which garnered him 133 1/2 of the 162 votes in the convention. The article goes on to detail what he would bring to the party, which was arguably little (besides gum). “He [had] neither education nor judgment in political affairs, and if elected [would] be a rare curiosity at Washington, being in person over six feet in height and weighing about 170 pounds,” it reads. One could say this sounds familiar.
Throughout the years, various other right-wingers would try their hand at chewing gum. At the 90th birthday party for political consultant Stuart K. Spencer last February—where Republicans nostalgically talked about “midnight phone calls from Nancy Reagan,” North Carolina moonshine, and the brand of Republicanism that flourished under Reagan—the birthday boy reportedly “snapped merrily away on a wad of chewing gum.” In a more moving scene, during the sweet final days of George W. Bush’s presidency, two White House lawyers were informing him of the option to pardon I. Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney’s adviser who was convicted of lying about his role in leaking the identity of an undercover CIA officer. All the while, “Bush sat behind his desk in the Oval Office, chewing gum and staring into the distance,” reported the New York Times Magazine.
Gum would also become a symbol of Republicans’ favorite virtue: purity. Disgusted at the thought of juxtaposing women’s bodily autonomy with the sanctity of gum, Michele Bachmann falsely claimed that Obama had “[put] abortion pills for young minors, girls as young as 8 years of age or 11 years of age, on [the] bubblegum aisle” at 2011 Personhood USA “tele-town hall.” Just last August, in what Politico describes as “a scene out of 1950s Americana,” Freedom Caucus member Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) “waved to constituents at a parade in [Dodge City], smiling as his sons handed out bubble gum and campaign fliers.” Aware of the pedestal on which Republicans have placed their sacred chew toy, the Council on Islamic-American Relations passed out the satirical drug Islamophobin as a cure for Islamophobia at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland; the “drug” was, you guessed it, gum.
Lucky for the Right, gum loves them back. Gearing up to cover the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fox 11’s Phil Shuman took a quick jaunt over to a 127-acre animal rescue sanctuary owned by Helen Rosburg, the great-granddaughter of William Wrigley of Wrigley Chewing Gum Company. In the dispatch, he walks into what first appears to be a shed, but what he describes as “the only place like it in the world”: The Wrigley Chewing Gum Museum. Inside is Rosburg, who had recently gotten into politics because of Barack Obama.
“I believe he’s harming America [and] I wanna be in the army on the other side to fight for our rights and our freedom,” Rosburg said, standing in a room full of Wrigley’s gum memorabilia. Because Obama “[liked government way too much],” she supported Mitt Romney’s campaign and said she donated to Republican causes. At the end of the segment, Steve Edwards was in awe.
“You know, it’s amazing what chewing gum did, if you think about it,” he said.
To pretend like the obsession is a partisan issue, though, would be not only irresponsible but also incorrect. In fact, when Obama was president, The Washington Post published a story with the lede “it’s difficult to find a larger advocate of gum-chewing than the president.” During his eight years, Obama managed to piss off all of France, India, and China by chewing gum at arguably inappropriate times (a D-Day ceremony and India’s Republic Day parade, for example), which is undeniably a symptom of his centrism. Hillary Clinton, too, liked to indulge in the occasional piece of gum. In a Newsweek profile of Huma Abedin, vice chair of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and wife to sext-addicted Anthony Weiner, one of Clinton’s friends told the publication that “a lot of times, Hillary would snap her fingers and go, ‘Gum,’” which Abedin would then fetch.
But the Republican love of gum is more than just an oral fixation; it’s also crept into their favorite idioms. Republicans like John McCain, Rep. Rodney David (R-IL), Ted Cruz, Jim Risch, and countless others have scratched their itch by casually throwing around the phrase “walk and chew gum at the same time” over the past few years. Their stance: Republicans can do this, Democrats cannot. While much of the latter have pledged themselves to inactivity and the preservation of the imperfect status quo—chewing gum while standing still, if you will—the former has charged toward repealing any regulation that protects the environment, attempting to kill off the elderly and poor by taking away their health care, and fighting a war against “Islamist extremists” while ignoring the existence of the violent white supremacy groups on American soil. In fact, Republicans are running while chewing gum. Will they choke? Who can say.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Ralph Nader as a Republican. Jezebel regrets the error.
Amanda Arnold is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Broadly, GQ, The Cut, and Literary Hub. Find her on Twitter at @aMandolinz.