Rhetorical Recap: Might As Well Face It
May 04, 2016
Indiana primary night speeches reveal: We're addicted to Trump.
Donald John Trump looked stunned that it was suddenly over and he had won.
Surely there must be another Republican rival to bash. Yes, John Kasich is still in the nomination race, but c’mon.
Surely an obstacle in the form of media distortions and rigged party rules remained to be battered.
Not at the moment there wasn’t. Cruz lay on the canvas. An anointment tweet arrived from RNC Chair Reince Priebus, misspelling the modifier in “presumptive nominee” as “presumtive.” The morning shows were booked.
Thirty years ago Trump entered the national political space, taking out full-page ads in three newspapers in September 1987 to promote his book The Art of The Deal with the call “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.” That message has landed. Trump has won 10.7 million votes and more than a thousand delegates. He has flattened fifteen Republican politicians with more experience in campaigns, elections, and government.
And if Trump was stunned, and Cruz bludgeoned, and Priebus addled, what must have been on the minds of tens of millions of Americans as they saw a well-dressed man in the company of beautiful women take the stage to declare victory?
Might as well face it, we’re addicted to Trump.
His remarks would have sounded disjointed were he not a rambler already. Still, he found his bearings. Early on, after expressing amazement, he locked onto something to get indignant about in the form of the negative ads aimed his way, “most of which are absolutely false and disgusting….The people are so smart, they don’t buy it, they get it.”
“We’re going after Hillary Clinton.” Of course, but on this night he went after Bill Clinton. NAFTA was “the worst trade deal in the history of the world” and her husband signed it. “Carnage” resulted in the manufacturing sector.
Trump repeatedly congratulated Ted Cruz, “one hell of a competitor, and he has got an amazing future.” He said Cruz did a brave thing conceding. Earlier in the day, he had brought up an unsubstantiated story connecting Cruz’s father to Lee Harvey Oswald. In making this U-turn Trump did exactly what he expressed surprise at and disdain for: how politicians go ballistic and then shift to flattery once the results are in:
I ACTUALLY SPOKE TO ONE TODAY WHO WAS VICIOUS. THIS GUY WAS UNBELIEVABLE. I SAID, I LOVE HAVING YOU AND I THINK IT IS TERRIFIC, BUT AFTER WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT ME, HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY JOIN OUR TEAM? AND HE SAID, MR. TRUMP, DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT, THERE WILL BE NO PROBLEM. IN OTHER WORDS, HE IS A POLITICIAN. I WOULD HAVE HAD A HARD TIME.
Trump addressed the nations of the world and the segments of the homeland population he has vilified. Listen up, people, it’s going to be America First:
THEY ARE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO DO WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO WITH THE MILITARY AND THE BORDER, INCLUDING THE WALL. WE WILL HAVE UNBELIEVABLY GREAT RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE HISPANICS, WHO HAVE BEEN SO INCREDIBLE TO ME. THEY WANT JOBS. EVERYBODY WANTS JOBS. AFRICAN-AMERICANS WANT JOBS. THEY WANT JOBS. WERE GOING TO BRING BACK OUR JOBS AND SAVE OUR JOBS PRINT PEOPLE ARE GOING TO HAVE GREAT JOBS AGAIN. THIS COUNTRY, WHICH IS VERY DIVIDED IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS IS GOING TO BECOME ONE BEAUTIFUL, LOVING COUNTRY.
Near the end of his remarks Trump blew a conservative dog-whistle. “We’re going to say Merry Christmas again.”
Well, we’ll see. There’s an election before Christmas.
There always seems to be a surface explanation at hand when a presidential candidacy fails. For the hyper-calculating Ted Cruz, five explanations arose in short order as the wheels flew off his campaign: the Kasich alliance, the Fiorina ticket, the “basketball ring” comment, former Speaker John Boehner’s “Lucifer in the flesh” characterization of him, and a withering exchange with a Trump supporter (“Indiana doesn’t want you!” the man said to Cruz’s face). Bad move, bad move, bad gaffe, negative endorsement, citizen rebuff. BusTED.
But a deeper multi-factor explanation was at hand as well. Cruz was a fringe candidate who espoused positions well to the right even of the current Republican party. His candidacy lasted longer than his positions and his loner style warranted thanks to a swollen roster of candidates, a cracker-jack campaign organization, tactical energy and inventiveness, and the attention-getting power of apocalyptic verbiage. “We are staring down into the abyss,” he said Monday.
As a strategist, Cruz had boxed himself in for Indiana as he did in his 2013 government shutdown foray. What happened, in both cases, is that his calculating become blatantly evident, alienating potential allies. His rhetoric became contradictory, explainable as naked expediency, and this undermined his pretensions at being an idealist. Yesterday Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and “serial adulterer” after having praised him earlier in the cycle. He also, once again, refused to declare his opposition to Trump. How can such a man retain a reputation for being a “principled conservative?”
Carly Fiorina opened for Cruz last night, comforting the crowd by assuring them “the cause continues and you are warriors still.” There were a lot of sentences in the past tense, a foreshadowing the audience sensed because silence greeted Cruz as he took the podium. He hearkened back to the Declaration (as had Fiorina) and the Constitution. He said America stands up to evil in the world, that America is kind and brave. He did not, as was his custom, discuss the results, the scorecard, and the nomination process. He paid tribute to his Mom and Dad, not mentioning Trump’s slur of the latter.
Cruz tacitly invited comparison between himself in 2016 and Reagan in 1976. By analogy, he envisions a place-marking speech for himself at the Cleveland convention and then a triumphant comeback in 2020.
When he announced the suspension of his campaign, there were yells of protest. He did not congratulate the victor.
Trump has snowballing support, but he is a fat and fixed target for attack. He has two main rhetorical tasks moving forward. First, he must persuade political attentives that his career in real estate development, steeped in personal brand promotion and legal threats, will be readily transferable and salutary to being president. Second, he must assure the general public that he will not pursue policies that degrade and offend American women, persons of color, and foreign-born residents. These tasks entail more than “acting presidential,” a role he has claimed he can readily adopt. It entails being presidential while a nominee. He must demonstrate that he can represent the entire nation, staff the federal government (the VP pick will be a proxy test), and advance substantive and politically viable legislative, diplomatic, and military agendas. These are not small tasks.
A third, more immediate requirement is to clamp down on those within his party who remain adamantly opposed to his nomination. He is meeting this challenge by making the argument that the voters’ preference cannot be denied through rules and maneuvers. That is technically false but popularly resonant in a year whose keyword may be “rigged.” Lately Trump has cleverly appropriated the word “rigged” from Bernie Sanders, not only giving him credit but attempting to coopt the concept and some of his voters in the process.
As for Sanders himself, he showed no hesitation Tuesday seizing on a Politico story about the minuscule distribution of funds from the joint Clinton-Democratic Party Victory Fund to state parties in order to advance Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” depiction in all but name. The DNC and Clinton disputed the conclusion.
Speaking later before a crowd in Louisville, Bernie Sanders said our ideas are “the future of America and the future of the Democratic Party,” as evidenced by our margins among those 45 and younger. He condemned the Walton family and Wal-Mart as examples of what the rigged economy is all about; taxpayers are subsidizing the employees of the wealthiest family in the country through food stamps and Medicare because their wages are too low. “Together, we are going to create an economy that will work for all of us, not just the 1%.” He spoke before he could claim victory in Indiana.
John Kasich’s campaign manager issued a memo. The Governor of Ohio is staying in until Trump reaches 1237, for the sake of the Republican Party and America.
Hours after his Louisville speech, Sanders reappeared in New Albany Indiana to claim his primary victory at a press conference. He returned to his “momentum from way behind” argument. “The path is narrow…but we can pull off one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States.” It’s as much addressed to superdelegates as voters in the remaining primary states.
Hillary Clinton went silent and invisible last night. Smart, since she lost, and lucky, since the Republican news squelched that fact.
Her main rhetorical tasks ahead are to strike hard at Trump and advance herself in such a way as to, first, convince large numbers of Sanders supporters that her campaign is worth their efforts as well as their votes, and, second, convince the anti-Trumps they are better off focusing their political energies outside their party’s presidential campaign for the next six months. To do this, the Clinton campaign frame must go deeper and broader than the cause of gender equity and history, as large and convenient as those themes are. (The Clinton campaign certainly rolled out those “woman card” purchasables quickly in the campaign store!)
Over the next six months Clinton needs to lock down a portion –not a majority– of the white male working class to maintain Democratic hegemony in states that have been consistently blue this century. Crossover endorsements (David Petraeus? John McCain? Michael Bloomberg?) will help. Mostly, however, she needs to consolidate support among non-whites and non-males. I predict a Flint-style visit to Puerto Rico, a dignified photo opp with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and intimations of a Senate leadership position for Sanders.
Polls confirm that majorities of Americans don’t like either Clinton or Trump. Yet we cannot avoid the choice. Back to Robert Palmer:
Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted…