It’s been a noisy, bitter presidential campaign — and candidates’ rhetoric has often claimed the spotlight. From Donald Trump’s declaration that Hillary Clinton would be in jail if he were president to Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remark about half of his supporters, the 2016 race has generated plenty of phrases that we’ll remember.
Newsday.com interviewed several political analysts who noted that Trump has said most of the phrases that stand out. The billionaire businessman has a smaller vocabulary than other politicians and what he says is more unexpected, which helps make it more memorable, says Kayla N. Jordan, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Texas-Austin. She examines political language from a psychological point of view on a blog, Wordwatchers.
“Trump does try to speak in a much simpler manner and maybe simplify really complex things that Clinton takes much longer to explain and to really delve into,” Jordan says.
“Donald Trump campaigns with very short messages” that are less about policy and more about points he wants to make, says Meena Bose, a political science professor and director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. Clinton’s campaign is less about catchphrases and more about discussion, Bose says.
Clinton’s ‘basket of deplorables’
One of Clinton’s biggest gaffes was her comment at a New York City fundraiser on Sept. 9, 2016, that half of Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables.” Mark Grabowski, an associate professor in communications at Adelphi University, placed this in the context of the overall dynamics of the race.
“Donald’s really stolen the show, of course, and I think Hillary wisely has just sort of gone into prevent-defense mode,” not campaigning as much, Grabowski says. “When she did sort of [campaign] more actively, that’s when the whole deplorables comment came out,” because she was weary from campaigning, he says.
Clinton said the next day that she was being "grossly generalistic," declaring, "I regret saying ‘half’ – that was wrong." She also said Trump's campaign was deplorable.
As for her rival, “Trump is his own worst enemy with what he says and does,” although his candid comments have also endeared a lot of voters to him, Grabowski says.
Trump to Clinton: 'Because you'd be in jail'
In their second debate showdown, Clinton remarked that it's good that someone like Trump is not in charge of law enforcement in the country. “Because you’d be in jail," Trump interjected.
“That was a really memorable comment because it generated a lot of attention and interest, both positive and negative,” Grabowski says. “If you think about the second debate, that was probably the most played clip.”
The media focused on the comment’s implications for democracy. But, Grabowski says, “I think the average person saw it that Hillary’s going to be held to the same standard I would.” He adds, “I think for most people that line was kind of a zinger that they found entertaining and that resonated with a lot of voters.”
Bose says “at the time I didn’t take that to mean that he would arrest her without trial” – that in the context of Clinton’s emails, Trump would have an investigation. But since then, Trump has encouraged his supporters’ chants of “Lock her up,” she notes.
Grabowski thinks “Because you’d be in jail” will “go down as the most memorable debate comeback” since President Ronald Reagan’s jibe about former Vice President Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience in 1984.
More Trumpisms: 'Bad hombres,' 'locker room talk,' 'nasty woman'
Bose zeroed in on a series of Trump phrases – “nasty woman,” “you’d be in jail,” “bad hombres” and “locker room talk” – and what they say about his campaign. “These are all words or phrases that are meant to convey messages, and they’re not policy messages,” they’re political, she explains. “They’re certainly designed to appeal to core supporters.”
Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’
The ubiquitous phrase reflects what Trump’s supporters think, while Democrats push back that the country’s already great, Jordan says. Their approaches capture the difference in the two candidates’ worldviews, she says.
“You have the optimistic Democrats saying things are good but they could be better, whereas the Republicans are saying doom and gloom, and things are horrible and we have to fix it,” Jordan says.
Michelle Obama: ‘When they go low, we go high’
That line led many people after the Democratic National Convention “to wonder whether she has a political future in mind,” Bose says of the first lady. The phrase “has a message that’s about both politics and governing,” and someone of almost any political affiliation could see the merits of it, she adds.
President Barack Obama said in a recent radio interview that his wife will not be a candidate, however. “She will never run for office,” he said.
Trump: ‘The election is rigged’
One of Trump’s central themes as the campaign draws to a close is that the election and the media are rigged against him. “When he says the election is rigged, that might go down as a famous line, because polls suggest that resonates with voters,” Grabowski says.
Clinton deals herself in 'playing the woman’s card’
Jordan pointed to a memorable theme of Clinton’s that actually draws on a Trump phrase – her responses to his statements that she’s playing the “woman’s card.”
“I think that phrase somewhat stands out, especially given how things have played out on Trump’s side, as gender has become more of an issue in this election,” Jordan says. “I think her one-liners on that have kind of started sticking out.”
One example comes from a Clinton rally in South Florida on Oct. 26, 2016. "If standing up for equal pay is playing the woman’s card, then deal me in!" she said.
Trump’s putdowns of his opponents are hard to forget. Grabowski describes them as “his demeaning nicknames for people, whether it’s Rubio being a robot, or Jeb being low energy, or Lyin’ Ted, or referring to Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas.”
Jeb Bush: 'Please clap'
Speaking of Jeb Bush, remember that time he exhorted a crowd in New Hampshire to “Please clap”?
“How sad sacked it was,” Grabowski says. “It summed up sort of his desperation.”
The GOP candidate is shown speaking to voters in a different New Hampshire town on the same day, Feb. 3, 2016.