Trump’s style decoded: How to interpret his first speech to Congress
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If you’ve never read the full transcript of a candidate Trump or President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE speech, I highly recommend it. You don’t have to be a media trainer to realize the same words that motivated millions to vote for him lose what little elegance they had when transcribed.

That’s because President Trump has a unique and predictable style that plays well for the rhythm of the ear.


The mogul who mastered entertainment for broadcast TV has copied and pasted these same techniques first into his campaign and now the Oval Office. He’s a man who knows his audience, and he’s going to give them what they want – a speech to listen to and not an op-ed to read.


But tonight, Trump will have to speak in a brand new (to him) setting: a joint session before Congress. It’s not a press conference and it’s not a campaign rally, so can we expect more gravitas? The answer for 20+ months has been “no,” so let’s assume not.

Instead, we’ll let his Feb. 16 press conference be our guide and attempt to manage expectations ahead of tonight’s speech:

He repeats himself 

It’s rare you walk away from a Trump rally/speech/press conference and wonder what he thinks. He’s told you repeatedly, and he’ll probably tell you again next week. Examples include:

  • “Mick Mulvaney, former congressman, has just been approved weeks late, I have to say that, weeks, weeks late.”
  • “And it's all about unification. We're unifying the party and hopefully we're going to be able to unify the country.”
  • “It's very important to me. I've been talking about that for a long time. It's very, very important to me.”
  • “We've been negotiating a lot of different transactions to save money on contracts that were terrible, including airplane contracts that were out of control and late and terrible; just absolutely catastrophic in terms of what was happening.”

By repeating himself, he sticks to his message AND makes sure the audience doesn’t misunderstand it. Even if you find his grammar appalling or his sentence structure too simple, you can’t help but understand the message he meant to deliver.

He tells you how he feels

A comment we’ve come to know and love is: “Donald Trump tells it like it is.” Sometimes I wonder if no truer words have ever been spoken.

And this trend continues to great effect.

  • “I think he'll be a tremendous secretary of labor.”
  • “And he will be, I think, a fantastic addition.”
  • “It’s very important to me.”
  • “And I appreciate that.”
  • “We're very proud of that.”

If you’ve been booked for a TV interview, you know that the producer wants you to have a very clear perspective and argument. It’s what makes TV interesting, and Donald Trump will never be mistaken for anything less than interesting.

But also, speaking your mind can be filed under that buzz word “transparency.” Again, even if you disagree with the message President Trump is delivering and his feelings about it, you can’t help but give him credit for transparency.

He Exaggerates

The middle ground isn’t a place that President Trump likes to occupy. He throws restraint out the window and prefers to bounce from once extreme to another, especially when talking about a decision he’s made or about to make. But his audience loves him for it.

  • “Tremendous” used twice
  • “Fantastic” used once
  • “Terrible” used twice
  • “Catastrophic” used once

This technique closely resembles “telling it like it is,” but is more about his audience than him. When President Trump tells it like it is, he’s giving his opinion; when President Trump exaggerates, he’s tapping into the emotion his audience feels. It’s a rallying cry and it works.

President Trump’s style may change as soon as he stops getting the results he wants. But so far he’s been rewarded for his approach (hello, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), and so it’s a sure bet he’ll deliver tonight’s speech on time and as expected. Since President Trump isn’t shy with a hostile crowd—the press—I don’t think the presence of several politicians who dislike him very much will dissuade him from being Trump. If anything, he’ll lean in.

Beverly Hallberg (@BevHallberg) is the president and founder of District Media Group where she conducts media training for members of Congress, CEOs, policy wonks, and politicos. She is also a visiting fellow in communications at The Heritage Foundation and 2016 winner of the William F. Buckley Award.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.