Here’s a breakdown of Trump’s most manipulative rhetorical weapons — and why they could get him reelected
President Donald Trump with a serious look as he delivers a speech at a campaign rally held at the Mohegan Sun Arena. (Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com)

The 2018 election results in the United States demonstrated that Democrats have an abundance of positions that can work in their favor, from universal health care to protecting Social Security and Medicare to calling for middle class tax cuts. But Democrats have a formidable adversary in President Donald Trump because he knows his base, knows it well and knows how to work it. Democrats enjoyed an impressive net gain of 40 seats in the House of Representatives in 2018, but Trump’s aggressive stumping on behalf of Republican candidates helped the GOP slightly increase its majority in the U.S. Senate and win key gubernatorial races in Georgia and Florida.


Trump is a loose cannon, but he is a master of soundbites and a master of messaging — and he stands a good chance of being reelected in 2020 despite the fact that Democrats are strong on issues like health care and middle class tax cuts. Rhetorically, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee — whether it’s Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris  of California or someone else — will need to engage in verbal guerrilla warfare and fierce messaging in order to overcome Trump’s ability to whip the GOP base into a frenzy. And Democrats who underestimate Trump’s rhetorical powers do so at their own peril.

Here are some examples of themes and rhetoric Trump is likely to use to flog Democrats going into 2020.

1. Sleepy Joe and Crazy Bernie

Trump’s name-calling seems incredibly childish and silly to his critics, who have often accused him of being a 72-year-old man (73 on June 14) who sounds like he’s taunting  classmates in middle school. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. While Trump  has street smarts and knows how to diminish his opponents — which means that he will be using names like “Sleepy Joe” for Biden and “Crazy Bernie” for Sanders a lot this year. The idea is to paint Biden as lethargic and Sanders as extreme and radical. Truth be told, Sanders isn’t nearly as far to the left as Trump would have us believe: he’s essentially a New Deal liberal who believes in capitalism with a strong social safety. Sanders isn’t really anti-capitalist — he’s against crony capitalism. But if Trump repeats his “Crazy Bernie” rhetoric enough, it could convince swing voters that Sanders is a dangerous extremist.

Biden, meanwhile, will need to appear as aggressive, forceful and focused as possible in order to keeping Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” rhetoric from sticking.

2. Claims that Democrats want to steal your guns and repeal the 2nd Amendment

Wanting to regulate the sale of firearms is a far cry from wanting to abolish the 2nd Amendment, but going into 2020, Trump will most certainly try to paint Democrats as the party that hates the 2nd Amendment and can’t wait to confiscate your guns. In the past, Democratic candidates have been mocked by other Democratic candidates for posing for photos while holding their hunting rifles. But if one of Trump’s 2020 messages is that I and I alone can protect your 2nd Amendment rights, Democrats will need to explain their positions and explain them well.

3. Trump will denounce Democrats as ‘sore losers’

Challenging Trump on his policies and investigating him via the House of Representatives is not the same as refusing to accept the 2016 election results. When Democrat Hillary Clinton conceded to Trump in November 2016, Democrats accepted the election results — and President Barack Obama tried to make the transition as smooth as possible even though his efforts, sadly, were in vain. But perception can become reality at a Trump event, and Trump has repeatedly denounced Democrats as “sore losers” who cannot accept the fact that Clinton lost to him. On March 4, Trump revisited that theme when he tweeted that if Democrats continue to investigate him, they will “continue to look like sore losers who didn’t accept the WILL OF THE PEOPLE in the last election.”

4. ‘No collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration’

Ever since special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his final report for the Russia investigation to Attorney General William Barr, Trump has been repeating his mantra “no collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration” —which wasn’t what Mueller said. The special counsel’s report said that the 2016 Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians, although questionable, didn’t rise to the level of a full-fledged criminal conspiracy — and Mueller made no judgement of either guilt or innocence on obstruction of justice but rather, laid out the evidence for others to evaluate going forward. Mueller, speaking publicly on May 29, stated that his work in the Russia investigation is over and done with; now, it’s up to others to read his report and decide what to do with the information.

So no, Mueller’s report wasn’t a total vindication of Trump. But the president realizes that if he repeats his “no collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration” soundbite often enough, many people will believe it. Trump is great at finding soundbites and working them to death, and being redundant is not a liability for the president — he views it as an asset.

5. Trump claims that U.S. economy is better than ever

Trump obviously realizes that many Americans, like himself, have short attention spans. Democrats are much better at nuance, but when so many Americans respond instinctively to soundbites — not nuance or intricate details — Democrats are fighting an uphill battle. Trump has repeatedly congratulated himself for the United States’ low unemployment rates of 2018 and 2019, but the devil is in the details: the country was recovering significantly from the Great Recession when Obama was still president — and not all Americans have been feeling the recovery. But when Trump stresses that “our economy is better than it has been in many decades” and tries to take credit for it, his base is going to buy into it — even if they’re still struggling.