Emotion plus rhetoric combine to create the Trump effect

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington
Posted 8/26/15, 03:48 pm

The staff of The World and Everything in It has profiled 22 possible 2016 presidential candidates in its “White House Wednesday” series. Now they take a look at who’s ahead and who’s making moves as the primaries get closer.

Donald Trump remains the presidential frontrunner in most polls of Republican voters. Tuesday night, he made headlines by having Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos removed from a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa. Trump has an ongoing dispute with Univision, which reneged on its contract to broadcast the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump owns, after he made derogatory remarks about Mexican immigrants.

Illegal immigration has become the signature issue of Trump’s campaign. At a rally in Mobile, Ala., last week, he laid out his position against so-called birthright citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants.

“In the case of other countries, including Mexico, they don’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. You don’t walk over the border for one day and all of a sudden we have another American citizen. It doesn’t work that way. Mexico doesn’t do it. Other places don’t do it. We’re the only place, just about, that’s stupid enough to do it,” Trump said.

Not much provokes a visceral reaction like illegal immigration. For rallying the severely discontented portion of the party, he’s found the right issue buttons to press. But Trump is tapping the issue in a way that makes many Christians uncomfortable. Trump says he is a Christian—a Presbyterian—but otherwise does not talk much about his faith

At the Family Leadership Summit in July. He was asked if he has ever asked God for forgiveness.

“I’m not sure I have,” he said. “I just go and try and do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. … When we go to church and I drink my little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and have my little cracker, I guess that’s a form of asking for forgiveness. And I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.”

Trump is pro-life now, but that was not always the case. In a 1999 interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said, “I am pro-choice in every respect and as far is it goes.” 

While he says he is pro-life today, remarks he made about Planned Parenthood in an interview with Sean Hannity bothered some pro-lifers. 

“I’m totally against the abortion aspect of Planned Parenthood,” Trump said. “But I’ve had many women—I’ve had many Republican, conservative women come up and say Planned Parenthood serves a good function other than that one aspect.”

Trump relies heavily on the rhetorical constructions of smart-versus-stupid and genius-versus-dummies. In doing so, he acts as a stand-in for the anger and frustration many people feel about Washington. When he says America has “losers” and “dummies” in charge, not only is he expressing what many people feel, he’s also using the same language many average voters use. 

By keying in on powerful emotions, Trump has stayed in the spotlight longer than many observers expected.

Listen to “White House Wednesday” on The World and Everything in It.