I’m watching the news coverage of the New Hampshire Democratic primary results, partially to pay attention to politics and partially to look for interesting examples to talk about with all of you. (One thing that’s very interesting is how different the coverage is across different newspapers/channels! Fox News is known for being particularly conservative and MSNBC is known for being particularly liberal, but I feel like most other channels don’t have as much of a reputation toward one political direction, so noticing differences in coverage of one event can be a useful way of trying to figure out political bias. But that’s not what I wanted to share in this post.)
One news site I’m watching (The Guardian) just shared a screenshot of one of Trump’s tweets about the primaries, embedded below:
Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, is having a really bad night. I think she is sending signals that she wants out. Calling for unity is her way of getting there, going home, and having a “nice cold beer” with her husband!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
Whatever your opinion on the content is, let’s look at some of the phrasing choices he made, and see some rhetorical grammar in action!
The first thing I noticed is the use of passive voice:
“sometimes referred to as Pocahontas.”
Even though we know that Trump is the one who regularly refers to Elizabeth Warren that way, the passive voice hides the “do-er” of the verb. It doesn’t make a particular claim about who refers to her that way. The implied “do-er,” because it is unspecified, becomes “some people” instead of “Trump.” (Of course, Trump is not the only one who does it, but he is the one who started it/who others picked it up from.) This makes the Namecalling (also rhetorical!) seem more widespread and accepted/agreed with.
I think this is effective for his rhetorical goals: to be popular as a president and have people agree with, or at least accept, him, and reject his political rivals.
The other thing I noticed is the quotation marks:
“Calling for unity is her way of getting there, going home, and having a “nice cold beer” with her husband!”
Normally, quotation marks used in this way would make me think he is using this phrase as a euphemism, maybe referring to something offensive. But in this case, I can’t figure out what it is. “Nice cold beer” is not a known sexual innuendo as far as I know, and I don’t think it stands for anything else? My other thought is that maybe she has used the phrase “nice cold beer” in her campaigning or interviews before, so the quotation marks show he is referring back to her own words. But I have no idea if that’s true– I’m just guessing.
So, I do not think these quotation marks are rhetorically effective, because even if they are grammatically correct (and whether or not they are would depend on what he is intending to say), the intended meaning is not clear.