Analysis: Trump's Hilton Head speech illustrates the power of a new politics

By Scott Canon


At the start, Donald Trump’s candidacy drew dismissals as a cross between self-delusion and performance art.

Ever since, he’s held commanding leads in national polls and monopolized campaign conversation.

So much of what he says, and how he says it, violates long-standing conventional wisdom about the need for politicians to play nice with others, to embrace a little humility. Donald J. Trump is no Dale Carnegie.

But at arena-packing rallies, he reveals the world according to Trump.

Transcript of Donald Trump’s Dec. 30 speech in Hilton Head, S.C.

We’ve combed through a Trump talk and asked experts from different fields for their observations. We’ve noted some things of our own. The analysis suggests Trump’s approach invites cynicism even amid the cleverness of his huge campaign style.

What emerges is a candidate who largely skips specifics, takes glee in ridiculing anyone he sees blocking his way, and promises that he can give America a makeover in his own gold-plated style.

Here are some excerpts, with annotations added, from a Dec. 30 Trump speech to an adoring crowd on Hilton Head Island:

Trump: This is so — so incredible.

From the very beginning, Trump is a master of the not-so-humble brag. He sounds like he’s thanking the crowd, but he’s also thanking himself for being so awesome. — Martin Hamburger, a Democratic political consultant based in Washington, D.C.

We — we have had, no matter where we go — you know, it’s a movement, folks. This is a movement.

Trump talks about building a movement, but he rejects the concept of social movement building as a process. He hasn’t built anything unless he wins. — Suzanne Orr, a Kansas State University history professor

I think we’re going to do fantastically well in Iowa. I really think we’re going to do great there. And I could say, “Oh, gee, if we came in the top four of five.” I’m not — I’m looking to win everything. We want to run the table. We want to run it, because that sends a signal.

Note: The language? Simple stuff. Use software to measure a Trump speech for its readability — how big are the words, how long are the sentences, how tough are the concepts? — and it scores as something a fourth grader could handle. (The president’s state of the union speech, by comparison, registered as eighth grade material, about the same as a typical newspaper story.) By communication standards, that’s a good thing. Keep it simple, stupid (a word The Donald is fond of).

And, you know, we’ve been a little bit — we had to respond to Hillary. She came out with that — she came out — remember, she wrote — she said, “He’s got a — he’s demonstrated a penchant” — I demonstrated — “a penchant for sexism.”

Trump’s refusal to be bullied together with his passion for punching back (“So’s your skirt- chasing husband, you hypocrite”) is a winner. All the wusses who live in fear of being similarly attacked think he’s crazy. On this point, he’s the only sane man in the room. —Woody Cozad, a lobbyist and former chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, not a Trump supporter.

Can you believe it? Me? Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump. That I can tell you.

It’s normally not a good idea to repeat the attack of an opponent. But he doesn’t follow normal rules. — Martin

So, we have to do it. You can’t let people push you around. You can’t let people tell lies. You can’t do it.

Note: The Pulitzer Prize-winning website Politifact gave the Trump campaign its 2015 “lie of the year” for misstatements ranging from claiming to have seen “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey Muslims celebrating when the World Trade Center came down, to claiming the Mexican government channels criminals to the United States to a tweet that suggested most homicides of whites are committed by blacks.

You know, it’s interesting. One of the polls came out from CNBC and they said that if it’s Trump against Hillary in the election, it will be the greatest voter turnout in the history of this country. I can see that.

Note: Indeed, survey respondents told Fluent that they’d be most likely to vote in the general election if Trump is on the ballot. Trump’s presence would boost the numbers for Democrats, for Republicans and for independents more than any others vying for the GOP nomination.

And they said all of these people that are going to come in new, that never vote — they never vote, they don’t care — they’re going to mostly — I’ll tell you what, they’re going to vote for Trump.

That’s why they’re coming in, because they’re so fed up with the system — this corrupt, horrible system. They’re fed up with it and they’re fed up with those guys back there, the media.

They are the worst.

Trump uses a high level of ambiguity of the subjects of his sentences. Consider the “they” in that paragraph. The first “they” is whom? Critics? The media? Researchers? The next six “theys” seem to be people who don’t usually vote. But are all people who don’t vote “fed up with the corrupt, horrible system”? — Esther Thorson, a journalism and advertising professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia

No, no, no. They’re fed up. They’re fed up with the media. I mean, I’ve got — and you know, not all bad, but there’s so much dishonesty in the media. And I like to call it out.

Note: Trump regularly swings at the guys with press badges. Why not? Gallup has been polling Americans for decades about their trust in institutions, finding newspapers and television news routinely ranking at the bottom, barely above big business and Congress.

Long ago, then-Vice President Spiro Agnew rallied the Republican base against the news media, notably in a speech in Des Moines where he suggested “a handful of” journalists represent “a form of censorship.”


And one of the things that’s really been amazing to me, and such — it’s been so beautiful to watch — the level of genius in the public. They get it, you know? They really get it. They want to marginalize us, they want to do all of this and they want to make everybody look like, “Oh, gee.”

It’s hard to pull a quote from this kind of language because, without the aid of context, the reader doesn’t know what’s being said. And, it’s easier to disclaim interpretations of what was really meant by the comment. — Esther Thorson

The level of genius — they fully understand. They know they’re crooked, they know they’re dishonest and they really — otherwise, who gets worse publicity than me?


Note: Certainly, no candidate gets as much publicity, or delivers such ratings. The 2016 Campaign Television Tracker found that he received 41 percent of all mentions of Republican candidates on cable TV last year. Jeb Bush was next in the Republican field at 17 percent. Trump eclipsed Clinton, seeing his name dropped 42 percent more often than her’s.

I love you. I do. I love you. I love every — you know what? The rooms, no matter where, whether it’s stadiums or big ballrooms like this one, it’s amazing, and there’s love in the room.

He’s building an us-vs-them feeling. — Martin Hamburger

This is going to change so fast. You know, last year, $500 billion trade deficit with China. Think about it. You know what $500 billion is? You do — you do $100 bills, you would fill the room to the ceiling, $500 billion deficit — trade deficit with China.

Note: Actually, the U.S. trade deficit with China was about $338 billion in the first 11 months of 2015. In 2014, it was $343 billion. That’s a lot of money. But the American gross domestic product is nearly $17 trillion. Canada is the top U.S. trade partner.

Our leaders are stupid and — and/or — you have to say and/or they have deals, because what’s happened is all of this money is being given to them by special interests, by all of these people, including lobbyists, and these lobbyists make our leaders do — our leaders, can you believe our leaders?

He is a masterful communicator and can work a crowd, and he has very successfully tapped into the rage that many Republican voters feel. Voters feel like they know him because he connects with what they are thinking and feeling. — James Harris, a Republican political consultant based in Jefferson City

I look at this guy Jeb Bush. He spent $59 million on his campaign and he is down in the grave. He is nowhere. No, no. Think of it. It’s got to be much more than that. It was actually $59 million a while ago. Every time I turn on an ad, I see an ad about Trump. I mean, it’s not that bad an ad either. It’s like — you know.


If you’re going to do an ad, do an ad. But he’s a low-energy person. Let’s face it. We don’t need low-energy. We need lots of energy.

Trump’s oft-repeated criticism of Jeb Bush attempts to emasculate a political elite as someone not virile enough to run the country. Trump makes repeated references to his own success and his supermodel wife. — Suzanne Orr

But I go home (after a debate), and I watch, and the pundits will say — and they can’t totally kill me, because we know it is happening, we know what’s happening — well, Mr. Trump was OK tonight. He was — I won every single online poll, I won.

He loves to be number one, but the question is how will he take it in some of the states where he might not be in the lead and he comes in number two or number three? — James Harris

(Bush) takes the ad — and I shouldn’t even talk about him. He’s down to two or three — I — but it bothers me when I see a guy spending, you know, $60 million on ads against me, a lot of it, right? I say, why is he doing this? Doesn’t he have something better, he should go home.

Another rule he breaks: Talking about the campaign, about process. He’s barely talked about any issue or platform. Just his success.— Martin Hamburger

I said, “Jeb, I’m at 42, you are at 2. Right?” It is a simple answer. You started off here, right next to me, and then you were there, then you were there, by the next time, you are going to be off the stage. Right?

It’s very personal for him. He doesn’t like his opponents. — Martin Hamburger

Hillary is controlled by her money. So is Jeb. So is — by the way, I’m the only one self-funding my campaign. I’m self-funding.

Note: Well, sort of.

Trump has spent relatively little money, largely because he’s been so successful drawing media coverage instead.

His most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission shows that most of the campaign’s income is from donors, not Trump. Through September, the campaign reported $3.9 million in individual contributions. He gave about $105,000 to the campaign.

He also loaned the campaign about $1.8 million. But that’s not necessarily a contribution. In fact, having that loan on the books means that money given to the campaign possibly benefits Trump personally by increasing the ability of candidate Trump to repay human being Trump.

In addition, his second-biggest campaign expense in that filing was $700,000 for flights on his personal Boeing 757 jet. So in a sense, the campaign is paying for Trump to fly in Trump style.

The largest recorded campaign expense: logo-emblazoned merchandise such as those red “Make America Great Again” trucker hats.

You know, one of the things that makes me happy. I heard one of my commentators this morning, said, “you know, I’ve been watching this stuff for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like what has happened with Trump.”

Here’s an interesting omission: Trump never calls himself a Republican or a conservative in this speech. He also never attacks the Democratic Party as a whole. Instead he attacks individual candidates who he labels “enemies.” He’s running in the Republican primary, but rhetorically he sounds like an independent candidate. — Suzanne Orr

Isn’t that nice? That’s a very — every once in a while, somebody can say something that hits you. Where are you? Who said that? Wow. So nice. Thank you. That is a nice one. That’s like, you know, every once in a while, there is a statement that is either nice or brutal. I think low-energy was a brutal statement, right?

His rhetorical style is nothing more than stream of consciousness, floating from one thought to another, frequently unrelated, thought. Much of his seemingly interior monologue is in praise of himself — how great, strong, brilliant, smart he is — while attacking, belittling and demeaning anyone who dares to question Donald Trump. — Mitchell McKinney, a communications professor who teaches political communication and rhetorical theory and criticism at the University of Missouri-Columbia

Low-energy can be applied to Hillary. I just don’t like to use the same thing twice on one of my enemies. Right? Because I consider them enemies. We view this as war. Don’t we view this as war? It’s war.

Yeah, he really doesn’t like them. — Martin Hamburger

We are in a situation where we have incompetent leadership, where our trade deals are killing us, our military is not prepared. General Odierno when he left, just recently, he said that we are less prepared than at any time that he can remember. And I think he went back to the beginning, but let’s say Second World War. OK? That’s enough.

Note: Ray Odierno, when he was retiring as Army chief of Staff last year, said that he believed the U.S. Army needed about 490,000 troops. A budget stalemate in Congress lowered those numbers to 450,000. Odierno did not say the military was the least prepared he could remember or that it was as ill-prepared as it was for the start of World War II.

Putin comes out, he said, Donald Trump is brilliant, he is doing an amazing job, and he is leading the pack. OK, that’s nice.

Note: Russian President Vladimir Putin called Trump a “really brilliant and talented person without any doubts.”

Trump’s flattery of the Moscow strongman has drawn criticism. When a cable news host pointed out that Putin “kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries,” Trump responded: “At least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country. … Our country does a lot of killing also.”

The world has blown up around Barack Obama.

Now, I don’t know if you saw his recent release. They were talking about the Department of State, State Department, and they said very strongly, you know, the things that they’ve done. Well, they couldn’t find it because what have they done that’s good? And they said bringing peace to Syria. Did you see that?

The world is blowing up, the migration in Syria — they say one of their achievements for the year is bringing peace to Syria, and the whole world’s talking about it. It’s — the level of stupidity is incredible. I’m telling you. I used to use the word incompetent, now I just call them stupid.

If we have Hillary — I’ve got to tell you. I just saw where for the last week she’s been hitting me really hard with the women card, OK? Really hard. And I had to say OK, that’s enough, that’s enough. And we did a strong number. She’s not going to win. Any by the way, I love the concept — I love, love, love having a woman president. Can’t be her. She’s horrible. She’s horrible.

Trump jumps from one topic to another. And as he notes a particular issue he does so to point out that things are currently horrible (with health care, education, foreign policy, etc.,), that he’ll easily fix whatever’s wrong while offering no specifics or evidence to support his claims. — Mitchell McKinney

And you know really don’t — I’ll tell you who does not like — yeah, we’ll get Ivanka. Good. Let’s do Ivanka.

Note: Comedians have made much of how proud Trump is of the looks of Ivanka, a daughter from the first of his three marriages. Some have even launched a crude Twitter hashtag on the subject.

Father and daughter appeared on the daytime talk show The View in 2006 and discussed the possibility of her posing for Playboy magazine.

“It would be really disappointing — not really — but it would depend on what’s inside the magazine,” Donald Trump said. “I don’t think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

But I’ll tell you who doesn’t like Hillary are women. Women don’t like Hillary.

Trump claims non-factuals with total confidence. A Washington Post poll indicated women would support Clinton by a striking 61-33 percent margin. —Esther Thorson

I see it all the time. And always so theatrical.

Irony: Who’s more theatrical? — Martin Hamburger

Mr. Trump said this and that and this. And you just — I actually — I shouldn’t do it. I just have to turn off the television so many times. She just gives me a headache.

Note: You know how your mom told you that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all? Trump does it the other way around. The Washington Post counted 68 people he insulted in 2015.

Look, we’ve got to be tough, we’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to have heart too. We’ve got to have heart, we’ve got to take care of people. We’ve got to fix our health care program.

In previous election cycles, people have wanted a 10-point plan from their candidates. Now, they’re so disgusted with what they’ve seen from the Obama administration that they just want someone different, someone from outside the politics-as-usual crowd. They are attracted to someone like Donald Trump, who is larger than life, has his pulse on blue collar America, is saying what many of them are thinking (but can’t say), and is building his campaign on “making America great again.” — James Harris

You people know. Obamacare is a total catastrophe. It’s going to be repealed and replaced. It will die in ’17 anyway. I don’t know if you heard what’s happening. But it’s so bad, all the people that they didn’t think were signing up are signing up.

And the other people that are really paying for it are not signing up. And your rates are going up 25 percent, 35 percent, 45 percent.

Note: That looks to be an exaggeration. Politifact says “he’s cherry-picking the high end of premium changes to come. Estimates for the national average are far below Trump’s figures, ranging from 4.4 percent to 13 percent.”

Your deductibles are so high that unless you get hit by a tractor, you’re never going to be able to use your deductible. You’re never going to be able to use it. So Obamacare is a disaster. We are going to repeal it, we are going to replace it.

He’s clever to only talk problems and not solutions. Very little to get caught up in. Ben Carson blew up because he offered silly solutions. — Martin Hamburger

There are so many great things we can do on health care. So many good things.

Note: The candidate’s website offers no specifics on how Trumpcare might work. He has said in debates that he’s “OK with” tax-sheltered health savings accounts. Asked if he thought such savings accounts might mean Medicare wouldn’t be necessary, he said, “Well, it’s possible.”

I’m number one by a lot and I spent no money. I mean, my plane cost me some money, but I spent no ads. Took a little radio ad in Iowa. But I didn’t do that — I took — I think the station is so lovely if you want to know the truth. But I spent essentially no money.

Note: Trump has since aired a TV ad that says, “The politicians can pretend it’s something else, but Donald Trump calls it radical Islamic terrorism. That’s why he’s calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until we can figure out what’s going on. He’ll quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. And he’ll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our Southern border that Mexico will pay for.”

And then you have all these other guys spending vast — and they like the way the United States is run. Now, why would we put a guy like Jeb, like some of the others. It’s not only Jeb Bush. They spend money. I see Rubio on the ads all day long.

Again, using his campaign as a metaphor for how he would run the country. Most candidates avoid that. — Martin Hamburger

We made a deal for Iran, done by some of the dumbest people on earth, on our side. … They have self-inspections. How about the area — you know, the big area? They don’t want us there. Oh, I wonder why? They don’t want us there. So they self-inspect, OK?

Then they have the 24-day inspection, but the self-inspection is the beauty. “We think you’re making nuclear weapons here.” “Well, let us go check, Mr. President, we’ll check.”

“No, sir, we’re not making nuclear weapons. Nobody — no, we’re not. We would never do a thing like that.”

He’s very good at painting word pictures. Helps people imagine a situation well. — Martin Hamburger

If we keep going like this, folks, we’re not going to have a country left. We’re not going to have a country. We’re not going to have a country.

Part of Trump’s allure is not what he says but how he says it. Every person running for President has an ego so enlarged that psychiatric counseling is called for. The rest of them dish out faux humility ’til one’s gorge rises up. Trump just lets his ego strut. In this sense, he's real and the rest are fakes. — Woody Cozad

Believe me, the enemy doesn’t want to be killed. You know, you hear so much, oh, they want to go with the virgins up to wherever they go, right?

They don’t. They want to live. And they want to take care of their families, always their families. You remember that, because their families know what’s going on OK? You think their wives don’t know what they are planning? You think their kids don’t know exactly what Daddy is doing when Daddy is going to fly into the World Trade Center?

Note: Trump’s contention that families of the 9-11 terrorists knew what was coming has been widely disputed. At times, he’s called for violent attacks on those family members, which many analysts say would amount to a war crime.

(Obama) gives an exact date and so they pull back (from Iraq). …

Why should they fight when they know, in 18 months, they can go in and take the place? So what happens? So we have ISIS taking a lot of oil. I said take the oil. Remember when we left, I was opposed to going in because I said you’re going to destabilize the Middle East.

It’s actually a pretty sophisticated argument, but spelled out very simply. — Martin Hamburger

So, (Obama has) got a problem with the carbon footprint. You can’t use hair spray because hair spray is going to affect the ozone.

Trump seems to conflate two environmental issues. Chlorofluorocarbons were discovered to be destroying the Earth’s atmospheric ozone layer. The 1987 Montreal Protocol signed onto by 191 countries phased out their use in aerosols. Aerosol spray cans today use hydrocarbons and compressed gases such as nitrous oxide that do not harm the ozone.

Today, scientists broadly agree that the emissions of greenhouse gases — unrelated to aerosol hair spray — principally carbon dioxide, contribute significantly to a warming of the planet.

I’m trying to figure out. Let’s see, I’m in my room in New York City and I want to put a little spray so that I can —

(Crowd laughter)

— Right? Right? But I hear where they don’t want me to use hair spray, they want me to use the pump because the other one which I really like better than going bing, bing, bing —

(Crowd laughter)

— and then it comes out in big globs, right, and you — it’s stuck in your hair and you say oh my God, I’ve got to take a shower again. My hair’s all screwed up, right?

He actually is displaying some humility. Laughing at one’s self is always a good tactic. It’s also sparingly used by his opponents. — Martin Hamburger

We’re going to win so much you’re all going to get sick and tired of winning. You’re going to say, oh, no, not again. I’m only kidding. You never get tired of winning, right? Never.

He doesn’t complicate this narrative with any nuance or details as to his specific policies or remedies or how he will bring about change if elected. — Mitchell McKinney

I order thousands of televisions, they’re all from South Korea. So we have 28,000 people on the border separating South Korea from this maniac in North Korea, we get nothing. What do — we get nothing. They’re making a fortune. It’s an economic behemoth.

A lot of you don’t know we protect Germany. Germany! Mercedes Benz, how many people have a Mercedes Benz? We protect Germany. It’s an economic behemoth.

He’s channeling populist economic grievances. — Martin Hamburger

First hour when the (Make America Great Again) hats were announced, I get a call from the New York Times. “Mr. Trump, where are those hats made?” I said, “America.”

I knew it. I knew it. Because as you know, if I would have said China, I would have been in big, big trouble. …

But here’s the story. We’ve got to build a wall. …They think I’m crazy when I say “Mexico”

Trump jumps from one topic to the next and back again at random. However, this abrupt transition is actually a smart way of linking immigration to free trade. He’s joining his theme of America as “a dumping ground” for migrants with his criticisms of trade policy that he believes make America “a dumping ground” for cheap foreign goods. — Suzanne Orr

The other day I got this great review. They said Trump is a great speaker. The crowd is spellbound. But he has one problem. And I’m reading, and I want to see. The problem is, he speaks through the applause. In other words, like I say that, you applaud, I start talking [before] you finish your applause. And you know why? Because I’m so excited, because we have so much potential. It’s true.


I don’t want to wait for your freaking applause.

This is possibly first utterance of the word “freaking” in American politics. — Martin Hamburger

And when I started this journey, and it is a journey, and I do love you people. You’re amazing people. And by the way, you are so smart.

His audience seems adoring, often yelling that they love him (and he responds, “I love you too!”). This “movement”seems more of a cult of personality in which he’s the entertaining carnival barker. — Mitchell McKinney

When I started this journey and that’s what it is, it’s a journey and it’s a movement that’s taking place. It’s a movement. Remember the old days? Silent majority?

It’s not right. It’s a noisy majority. People are angry. It’s a noisy majority. These aren’t silent people anymore. I go to people — you can’t even hear.

Although Trump says his “audience is young,” this reference to a Richard Nixon speech from 1969 would resonate most with older voters. Nixon believed the “silent majority” was patriotic and did not participate in the social protests of the 1960s. However, Trump is saying that the country has become so bad that the “silent majority” is becoming (and must become) vocal. — Suzanne Orr

Ted Cruz, who is a nice guy … said, “We’re going to build a wall at the southern border.” I said, “Look …where did that come from, right?” No, Ted’s a good guy.

Ted Cruz, who Trump calls a “nice guy,” is in Trump’s estimation a cheap foreign copy of himself. “Nice” is also an insult — he’s not tough enough to deal with America’s problems. — Suzanne Orr

When I — when I started the journey, it was amazing. I came down — it took courage. I went down into the lobby of Trump Tower, on the escalator with Melania. I have never seen — it looked like the Academy Awards, the press. We have a lot of press here today. They’re all live — look at all those live cameras.

This makes people feel they’re at an event that’s historic. — Martin Hamburger

So when I came down — when I came down on the escalator, we came down. And I said, “We’re going to do things.” And I mentioned illegal immigration. You wouldn’t even be talking about illegal — it wasn’t even on the radar. Nobody was talking about illegal immigration. Is that right? Now, it’s one of the big subjects.

When discussing immigration, Trump always refers to “illegal immigration,” a term rejected by supporters of immigration as offensive. He uses “undocumented,” the preferred term only once, when referring to Syrian migrants, and he takes its meaning literally: “We don’t know who these people are.” Rather than assuming he doesn’t know what the term means, this is instead a clever way of redefining “undocumented” in the immigration debate. — Suzanne Orr

Hillary Clinton said that she would most like to run against Donald Trump. And yes — and they’re looking forward to it.

Analysts cannot let go of their pre-conceived notions and detect new trends. You could tile a path to the moon with comments of pundits who predicted that Trump would not be a serious candidate and that he would fade away when voters “got serious.” — Richard Hertz, a California pollster

The Iran deal is the worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated, OK? I’m wrong. You know what the worst deal is? Iran’s a part of that one too. We gave them Iraq. That’s even better. Think of it. We gave Iran Iraq. Iran has the biggest — think of it. They’re going to have the richest oil — if you go to Iraq, take a look. Among the largest oil reserves in the world.

Note the extreme informality of the language. Trump’s speeches sound as if he’s generally saying whatever pops into his mind, and that he has no intent to clarify or provide a rationale for positions. This matches well a style that would appeal to his biggest supporters — males who do not have a college education. Politico indicates “74 percent of non-college men who identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents have a favorable impression of Trump, compared with 57 percent of male college graduates.” — Esther Thorson

Don’t sit back and say, oh, Trump is going to do well. The more we can win by, you know, the more power we have in a sense, because it is like a mandate. But you have got to go out and vote.

There is a rich tradition of “political experts” not being able to assess new trends in electoral behavior. A few weeks before the election in 1948, a Newsweek poll of 50 respected political journalists all predicted a Thomas Dewey victory over Harry Truman. — Richard Hertz

And I will tell you this. It has been an honor to be here, I love this area, I love the people here. It’s been an honor.

But we will make America great again, I promise. Thank you.

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