WASHINGTON, United States — He rambles, he blunders, he sensationalizes, but it’s hard to deny that Donald Trump has a stocked rhetorical toolbox, full of strategies like “truthful hyperbole.”
“I’ve been studying presidential rhetoric for 40 plus years now and I cannot recall an instance in any campaign or any presidency where people have used language the way Donald Trump is using language,” Martin Medhurst, a Baylor University professor of communication and political science, told AFP.
“His language is very colorful, it’s easy to listen to him,” Medhurst said. “It’s easy to sort of get into the moment because it’s sort of like a show.”
A consummate entertainer, the Republican presidential candidate delivers his slick catchphrases with the confidence of the reality show star he once was.
Speaking in a grammar-defying conversational tone without syntax or punctuation, Trump favors short phrases and vocabulary even children can understand.
He repeats his slogans like catchy pop song lyrics, ingraining the words “It’s a movement,” “Build the wall,” and “Make America great again” into the minds — and perhaps even some of the hearts — of his supporters.
“I play to people’s fantasies,” the billionaire wrote in “The Art of the Deal,” his 1987 bestselling memoir. “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do.”
“A little hyperbole never hurts,” the real estate mogul also wrote in his book. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.”
A man whose name is plastered on a winery, golf courses and hotels worldwide, Trump’s bombastic style of speech has also become a brand of its own, one he has cultivated for decades.
“He would make a tremendously exaggerated remark, or make something up that wasn’t even exaggerated, and then he would pounce on it and repeat it,” Barbara Res, once the head of construction of Trump’s company, told The New York Times.
The presidential hopeful still enjoys taking liberty with facts: in just one recent example, he declared that US President Barack Obama founded the Islamic State (IS) group.
‘Many people say…’
Not one to cite concrete sources, Trump prefers making vague allusions to “people” who have informed his statements and views.
Case in point: “I have one friend, I said, ‘How was your trip this year to France?’ He said, ‘France isn’t France anymore. We’re not going,'” Trump said at a recent campaign event. “And so many people are saying that.”
The rhetorical strategy allows the spontaneous speaker to make bold statements without personally taking responsibility for his words.
“It is so imprecise and so open to refutation that certainly no president would use that,” Professor Medhurst said of Trump’s style.
“Believe me, the jobs are coming back, folks. That’s going to be so easy,” Trump said at a recent campaign rally.
From the reindustrialization of America to the annihilation of the extremist IS group, Trump regularly prefaces his promises with the phrase “believe me,” to drive his point home, said Medhurst, a strategy of speech the rhetoric expert said requires skepticism.
“The moment they say it, is when you really need to step back and be very careful,” Medhurst said. “The more they protest that they can be believed or that they’re sincere, the more unbelievable and insecure they all are.”
When Medhurst studied the speeches of President Dwight Eisenhower, for example, he “discovered that whenever (Eisenhower) used ‘sincere,’ he was using it to cover up a form of insincerity, that there was something going on that wasn’t really sincere, that was under the radar.”
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks,” Trump recently said of his rival Hillary Clinton. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Many of Trump’s declarations are as incomplete or ambiguous as that recent assertion, one that some think suggested violence against Clinton if she were to appoint judges as the potential future president. Trump roundly refuted those accusations, blaming the press for manipulating his words.
“He gives himself a tremendous amount of running room so that he can shape the meaning and the interpretation after the fact to his liking,” said Medhurst.
Another recent example of an oblique Trumpian remark: “I watched the President and sometimes the words are OK but you just look at the body language, there’s something going on. Look, there’s something going on, and the words are not often OK, by the way.”
Though it remains unclear exactly what Trump was accusing Obama of, the Republican candidate was insinuating that the president spoke insincerely when he condemned the death of three policemen killed in Baton Rouge.
Trump also employed that technique when he suggested that Obama might not have been born in the US, or that the president was “maybe” Muslim.
“I won’t say. I was going to say ‘dummy’ Bush, but I refuse to say it,” Trump said earlier this year.
The candidate seems to take joy in deploying preterition, a rhetorical device speakers use to emphasize something by omitting it.
Trump regularly broaches topics he claims to have no interest in speaking about, a way to taunt his opponents without explicitly doing so.
But when it comes to his rival Clinton, Trump is more direct, giving his Democratic opponent the nickname “Crooked Hillary.”