- Donald Trump’s stump speeches have been few and far between since he left office.
- Hitting the road again means getting reacquainted with his rhetorical moves.
- Casting doubt on everything about the insurrection in DC is his latest rallying cry.
The return of over-the-top “Save America” rallies on January 15 in Arizona gives embattled former President Donald Trump another chance to publicly deny any responsibility for the deadly January 6, 2021 attack at the US Capitol.
Here’s how Jennifer Mercieca, author of “Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump,” said the twice-impeached, revenge-seeking, presumed front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2024 has sought to bend reality to his will in the past.
Mercieca, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, said Trump typically plays defense by sowing confusion in any way possible. For instance, while he told attendees at his fiery Ellipse address on January 6, 2021, to “fight like hell” to keep him in office, Trump’s lawyers said in a civil suit filed against him by US Capitol Police Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby that he was actually calling for “an effective, peaceful, and patriotic demonstration.”
Blassingame and Hemby were two of the law enforcement officials who defended the Capitol from roving MAGA invaders.
Mercieca said the easiest way to tell that Trump’s slipping into “apologia” mode during what’s sure to be an hours-long airing of grievances in Florence, Arizona, is to listen for complaints about the “rigged” and “stolen” election, as well as arguments that he and his devoted followers are wildly misunderstood.
Expect Trump to cloud the issue from there using the following techniques:
Ad hominem: attack the person
Mercieca said deflection is a given.
“I/we did no wrong. But do you know who did? The Bidens. And the Democrats. And the Deep State,” she said of Trump’s penchant for passing the buck. “He will likely use name-calling to accuse them of lying, subversion, and treason.”
Trump has repeatedly called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “loser” and recently called Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota a “jerk” for saying the 2020 presidential election was “as fair as we’ve seen.”
Ad populum: appeal to the wisdom of the crowd
“He will portray himself as a righteous victim/hero who clearly sees the corruption, hypocrisy, and conspiracy against him, his people, and the American government,” Mercieca said of the familiar role-playing.
The second phase involves recasting the insurrection as “his ‘good Americans’ asserting their democratic rights against corruption” or a government plot to deny him a coveted second term.
Denial: it wasn’t me
The problem with claiming ignorance of this particular subject — as Trump often does by disavowing that he’s ever seen/met/spoken to politically inconvenient associates — is that the whole world watched it happen.
“He can’t deny that the insurrection took place, but he can try to re-frame how we understand it,” Mercieca said.
Differentiation: it isn’t how it looks
This one works in tandem with denial to warp understanding. Mercieca said.
“Taken together these strategies are designed to deal with the accusations made against him and his followers by trivializing them, accusing the accusers, and indicting the democratic and legal process itself,” she told Insider, adding that any nods to actual reality will immediately be couched by comments about “what it all means.”
Transcendence: look at the bigger picture
“He’ll try to make his base feel better and show that he should be remembered as a great president,” Mercieca said of any Trump-led walk down memory lane. The flipside is he now has to tear everything down to build himself back up.
“He was so successful at making America great again, he’ll say, that they had to cheat to get him out of office because they want America to fail,” Mercieca said.
Tu quoque: appeal to hypocrisy
Pointing fingers is one thing. Mercieca said Trump typically takes things further by accusing his accusers of doing the same — so it seems like everyone is crooked.
“I think we’ll see a lot of him trying to blame the Democrats or the FBI or others for what happened on January 6th,” Mercieca said.
This weekend’s rally marks Trump’s return to in-person appearances outside the secretive fundraisers he routinely hosts at his pricey private golf clubs in Palm Beach, Florida, and Bedminster, New Jersey.
It’s possible he’ll do two more of these a month in battleground states from now until the midterm elections. Politico reported Thursday.