One of the more bizarre things I hear about Trump, from people who support Trump, is that he attacks liberals with more gusto than anyone else in the field. It’s bizarre because every time I turn around, I hear Trump attacking a conservative Republican. On the infrequent occasions that he attacks liberals, he does so offhandedly and with little conviction. “I would love to run against Hillary because her policies are so bad” is basically all he ever says about Hillary, when he does mention her.
I decided, however, that maybe I was just being fed his attacks on Republicans by the media, and that maybe he really does attack liberals on the stump, and I am just not seeing it because the media won’t report it. So I decided to do an analysis of Trump’s stump speech, as compared to the stump speeches of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are the only other two candidates who matter at this point. I used as a reference the most recent full stump speech of each candidate that I could find online.
My reference speeches were: this Rubio speech in Iowa on January 18th, this Ted Cruz speech earlier this week in Fort Worth, and Trump’s speech in Myrtle Beach on Saturday. All were between 30-40 minutes long, and all occurred after the race has gotten contentious, sparked by Trump’s stirring of the Cruz birther issue.
Every stump speech during a primary contains four basic elements: 1) Self-promotion (this is not intended to be derogatory, all candidates must explain why they are the best choice and people should vote for them); 2) the policy laundry list (this doesn’t have to be detailed and in fact is generally very broad); 3) attacks against primary opponents; and 4) attacks against the other party. For each speech, I divided the speech into the four categories and noted the amount of time each candidate spent on each. Some other percent was spent on stuff that can’t be quantified (rhetorical fluff), and that’s why the percentages won’t add up to 100% in any case.
However, in order to fairly capture the extent to which the candidates attacked each other and/or the Democrats, I also kept a separate tally of the amount of times they leveled an attack against each other and/or the Democrats during the course of one of their other segments. For instance, one of Rubio’s favorite rhetorical devices is, when he is explaining his own policy to say “unlike Hillary Clinton, who has instead done [X],” where [X] is something very stupid. So I kept that tally as well, and I kept tally of every time the Republicans mentioned their primary opponents (instead of other Republicans in general). In order to count as a reference to primary opponents, they had to reference either the candidate’s name or a well known position they hold or thing they’ve said.
Here’s how the breakdown came out:
Total speech length: 30:18
Total time spent attacking his primary opponents: 0:00 (0%)
Total time spent attacking Democrats: 3:52 (13%)
Total time spent on self-promotion: 13:11 (43%)
Total time spent on policy: (38%)
Additional notes: In the course of either the self-promotion and/or policy sections of his speech, Cruz attacked Hillary and/or Obama an additional 8 times, in addition to the 3:52 he spent on his uninterrupted attacks. Cruz made, by my count, one attack against his Republican rivals, which was very mild, essentially saying “The only thing I will say about the fine men I shared the debate stage with is that you know that when I say I will do something, I’m going to do it.” That’s not verbatim, but it’s close. Otherwise the other Republican contenders were not mentioned.
Total speech length: 37:11
Total time spent attacking his primary opponents: 0:00 (0%)
Total time spent attacking Democrats: 3:53 (10%)
Total time spent on self-promotion: 11:34 (31%)
Total time spent on policy: 17:17 (46%)
Additional notes: In the course of either self-promotion and/or policy sections of his speech, Rubio made 15 attacks on either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, making his speech nearly as aggressive against Democrats as Cruz’s. Rubio did not mention any of his primary opponents even once, even obliquely. Given that Rubio has been the target of the overwhelming proportion of attack ads thus far this cycle, I found this to be surprising. Rubio’s policy section was also by far the most specific (and lengthiest) of the three candidates.
Total speech length: 43:43
Total time spent attacking his primary opponents: 4:43 (11%)
Total time spent attacking Democrats: 0 (0%)
Total time spent on self-promotion: 24:59 (57%)
Total time spent on policy: 13:32 (31%)
Additional notes: The sum total of Trump’s attacks on Democrats came in the opening seconds of his speech when he made an offhanded reference to “can you imagine if we had to have another 4 years of Obama? And Hillary might be even worse.” Later in the speech, he said “Obama is the worst negotiator I’ve ever seen, except when he’s negotiating with Republicans, and then he’s the best negotiator I’ve ever seen.” Those were the only negative comments Trump made about a Democrat during the course of his speech. He also is the only one of the three candidates who mentioned any of his primary opponents by name, engaging in a relatively lengthy diatribe about Jeb Bush (for some reason) and another about Ted Cruz.
It’s pretty obvious that the media is actually capturing Trump’s schtick pretty accurately, which is that he spends most of the time talking about himself, some smaller portion of the time talking about “policy” in vague ways, and the remainder of the time attacking his fellow Republicans. I have been watching Republican stump speeches my entire life and it was jarring to see one that included so little material about Democrats at all.
It’s especially bizarre since Trump is the unquestioned frontrunner. Any other candidate at this point in the race would be pretending that his Republican rivals did not exist, and gearing up his general election attack against Hillary and/or Bernie. This not only would help for the general election, but also would cement an air of inevitability about Trump as the nominee.
I don’t know what Trump’s motives are for engaging in this tactic (although I have my theories) but it’s just patently false that he’s out there leveling the most effective attacks against liberals you’ve ever seen. Not only is he not leveling effective attacks, he’s not leveling attacks at all. The only people Trump is interested in attacking right now is other Republicans.