AbstractConventional wisdom suggests that Donald Trump’s rhetoric – aggressive, insulting, often offensive – would be counterproductive to electoral success. We argue that Trump’s surprising victories in both the primary and general campaigns were partly due to the positive effects of his appeals grounded in the intersection of threat and absolutism. The content of Trump’s rhetoric focused on threats to personal safety (terrorism), personal status (economic decline), and group status (immigration). The style of Trump’s rhetoric was absolutist, emphasizing non-negotiable boundaries and moral outrage at their violation. Previous research has shown perceived threat to motivate political participation and absolutist rhetoric to bolster impressions of positive character traits. Trump employed these two rhetorical psychologies simultaneously, melding threat and absolutism into the absolutist threat as an effective rhetorical strategy. Analysis of Trump’s debate language and Twitter rhetoric, as well as original data from political elites at the Republican National Convention and ordinary voters at rallies in New Hampshire confirm the unconventional efficacy of Trump’s rhetorical approach.
The Forum – de Gruyter
Published: Jul 26, 2017
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