The Dim-Post

March 4, 2016

Thoughts on Trump’s messaging

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:51 am

I watched the first few seasons of Donald Trump’s reality TV show The Apprentice when it screened about a decade back and I loved it. It was amazing storytelling, with heroes and villains and twists and jokes. Like all those shows it was partly scripted and heavily edited, and a lot of the classic tropes of reality TV – ‘I didn’t come here to make friends’, etc – originated with The Apprentice. 

Former US Republican nominee Mitt Romney gave a speech today attacking Trump. And it’s a pretty good speech by the standards of the genre. It has lines like:

Mr. Trump’s bombast is already alarming the allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies.

Which has alliteration and a good cadence, and cool-sounding words like ‘bombast’ and ‘enmity’. Most politicians love giving speeches like this because they’re political geeks and this is how their historical heroes talked, and they always like to imagine themselves as Churchill or Reagan or Kennedy or whoever. But it is not, remotely the way normal people talk in the 21st century.

Trump, famously, doesn’t talk like a politician. He talks like a reality TV show star which is what he is. Lines like the one above, which is Trump’s response to Romney’s speech, in which he references Romney’s gratitude for Trump’s endorsement back in 2012 is the kind of killer line people say on reality TV all the time. It is just perfect.

There are lots of theories around explaining the rise of Trump – that he’s tapped into an authoritarian segment of the electorate, that he’s the fruit of the GOP’s poison tree – and I agree with some of them. But I also think that at a time of tremendous anger towards the political elite he happens to be a master of communicating in a way that is the total opposite of that hated elite. Probably a lot of what he says is scripted, just like someone else wrote Romney’s speech for him. He probably, literally has Apprentice scriptwriters he’s been working with for over a decade churning material out.


  1. His rhetorical style is a large part of why he works. It’s hard not to be entertained even when one lothes the content.

    He’s also free of obligation to what even passes for nuance for Republicans which adds and edge and excitement.

    Obama had a rhetorical style which played a large part in his appeal but he also had credible policies and an organisation.

    And there was of course The Gipper, JFK and Bill Clinton. So US politics has a tradition charismatic charmers. Possibly the election process selects for rhetorical skill far more than in other countries.

    But yes, it’s a somewhat scary convergence.

    One would have to say HRC’s rhetorical style is more prosaic. Maybe that will turn out to be an advantage when up against the candy floss.

    Comment by NeilM — March 4, 2016 @ 9:13 am

  2. I don’t think it is a distinctive mode of speech nor is it an either/or. It’s all about the channel you are using. If it’s a speech to a live audience any variant on the classic styles will still be effective, but the only thing that might reach a wider audience from that speech will be a short statement suitable for an audio or video clip or a Tweet. Trump could use the Tweet you display as an aside in a speech and it would be just as devastating for both the live audience and the Twitter audience and any other channel his campaign cared to use, though US politics is probably not ready for it on a billboard next to a freeway.

    Comment by Tinakori — March 4, 2016 @ 9:19 am

  3. This

    Comment by Flashing Light — March 4, 2016 @ 10:40 am

  4. Let me try that again …

    This from last year puts Trump’s rhetorical approach in some US historical context:

    Comment by Flashing Light — March 4, 2016 @ 10:41 am

  5. I think people are just projecting onto Trump their fantasies for change exactly as many did on Obama eight years ago. He has mastered through experience a character for TV that invites it. If the Gaurdian’s article interviewing people about why they intend to vote for Trump is accurate…

    …I think it’s clear that he’s a vacuum pulling in the disenchanted who imagine anything not the Washington DC establishment is better. Like Sanders Trump seems to succeed because there’s a strong mandate for protest votes in the U.S. right now.

    Comment by Fentex — March 4, 2016 @ 10:55 am

  6. He’s Cartman auditioning for a Scorsese movie.

    Comment by NeilM — March 4, 2016 @ 1:20 pm

  7. There are lots of theories around explaining the rise of Trump – that he’s tapped into an authoritarian segment of the electorate,…

    Does this mean the anti-authoritarian segments are more likely to support the sort of people who have been in authority for the last 100 years or so?

    Comment by unaha-closp — March 4, 2016 @ 1:39 pm

  8. unaha-closp – the rundown on the authoritarian argument is here. I’m kinda skeptical of this stuff in many ways, but th polling does show something is going on.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — March 4, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

  9. Another source that has been predicting a Trump win for ages is Scott Adams (aka Dilbert). His line is that Trump is a master persuader/hypnotist. See

    Comment by owen — March 4, 2016 @ 4:50 pm

  10. Have you seen the Democrats? No wonder Trump is popular with voters. Clinton looks more like an alien every day. As for Romney, he needs to support Trump because of Trump’s previous endorsement of him and because they both belong to the same Party. Why fight against a movement like this, when the guy (Trump) wants nothing more than to make America great again? It’s been a nightmare there since Bill Clinton and the property market bubble of the nineties. That gave way to Wall Street shenanigans and America had to deal with the collapse of Corporation greats, such as Enron, in the early 2000’s.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — March 4, 2016 @ 4:59 pm

  11. Sanders and Trump, it seems, are both an underlying symptom of a wider issue. Same thing with Corbyn and Farage in Britain.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — March 4, 2016 @ 7:12 pm

  12. Based on a sample of five absolutely freaking out Americans in Spain, a Trump victory may witness the biggest migration from the USA for political reasons since 1776.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 5, 2016 @ 10:56 am

  13. “12.Based on a sample of five absolutely freaking out Americans in Spain”
    What IS your carbon footprint, Comrade Sanc?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 5, 2016 @ 5:29 pm

  14. I watched the 26th (!) Republican debate last night. Rubio kept saying Trump knows nothing about policy and refuses to have a policy discussion, which is true, but it’s been a long time since policy really mattered. It’s all about zingers and one-liners, which Trump mastered a long time ago.

    He has the ultimate Trump card too (sorry): everytime he starts to lose the debate, he can just claim he’s not a politician. It’s kind of hard to dislike the guy, considering who he’s up against. Cruz gives me the creeps. Kasich and Rubio are “normal” Republicans who don’t believe in climate change and think the US military is depleted (WTF!?).

    For the entertainment value, Trump vs Clinton would be amazing. US politics always delivers in that regard (entertainment).

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — March 5, 2016 @ 10:49 pm

  15. a Trump victory may witness the biggest migration from the USA for political reasons since 1776.

    Which I’s why I’ll be looking closely at the down-ballot races in, in particular, California. A Democrat controlled California-senate would do a lot to mitigate the worst of President Trump, and their could be some very lucrative situations vacant in the Golden State in early 2017.

    Comment by Phil — March 7, 2016 @ 9:55 am

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