While President Trump is often called a liar and various commentators have analyzed his rhetorical approach, little has been said about storytelling's role in his wins and losses. Trump’s narratives about legal issues enjoy wild success with his supporters, amuse some critics, and terrify others. Thus far into his presidency, his legal narratives have often failed with courts. With nearly sixty-three million American voters backing Trump, scholars and students of persuasion cannot ignore his successes. However, with over sixty-five million Americans voting against him and various court’s ruling against him, scholars and students of persuasion also cannot ignore his failures. Trump and his team use various effective narrative and rhetorical techniques. These techniques tap into his audiences’ deep frames, their strongly held values and predispositions. However, he has succeeded for reasons other than simply having an audience who liked his message. Although he regularly uses ethically questionable approaches, he also regularly uses certain rhetorical and narrative techniques that scholars and experts recommend. Nonetheless, the Trump team has also committed rhetorical errors. While these errors alienate his critics, the types of errors he commits are also particularly egregious to a judge making a determination in a lawsuit. This article identifies and lists the narrative techniques that the Trump team uses and divides them into the following categories: 1) universally successful techniques, 2) ethically questionable techniques, 3) stylistically controversial techniques, and 4) either carelessly composed or intentionally sloppy statements containing errors. It examines why even some of the latter categories succeed with his base and shows how the same techniques can sometimes fail with a legal audience, such as a court. A few of Trump’s good and bad narrative techniques, including both sound best practices and ethically dubious approaches, comprise of: 1) using symbols and “endowed objects;” 2) targeting specific groups with audience-specific messages; 3) using short sound bites and simple language; 4) framing; 5) using stock structures; 6) creating strong antagonists; 7) establishing cliff-hangers; 8) creating distractions to shift the conversation to another topic; 9) surrounding falsities with a few key details to establish verisimilitude, a sense of reality; 10) using intimidation speech to silence critics; and 11) using intensifiers, such as “great,” “tremendous,” or “astonishingly excellent.
Cathren Page, Astonishingly Excellent Success or Sad, Loser Failure: Why President Trump’s Legal Narratives “Win” with Some Audiences and “Lose” with Others, 18 Conn. Pub. Int. L.J. 53 (Winter 2019).