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Comic Hero: Why Donald Trump's Candid Rhetoric Resonates With Supporters

Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Chairman's Global Dinner in Washington, D.C. Trump's speaking style is different than past presidents, it mimics stand-up comedy.
Kevin Dietsch
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Getty Images
Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Chairman's Global Dinner in Washington, D.C. Trump's speaking style is different than past presidents, it mimics stand-up comedy.

No matter what you think about what Donald Trump says, there's no doubt that there's something very unusual about how he says it.

After Trump takes the oath of office on Friday, he is expected to deliver a set piece speech, recited from text, not by impulse.

But what distinguished him as a campaigner wasn't his talent with the teleprompter. It was a manner of speaking unlike anything we heard from his rivals or predecessors.

"The way that he talks is as different from any other politician as Barack Obama looked," says Jennifer Mercieca, a historian at Texas A&M University, who's writing a book on Trump's rhetoric.

She says Trump's informal, impulsive style goes over well with his supporters. They hear a man who says what he thinks, not what consultants think he should say.

"The idea seems to be that all other politicians are corrupt, and that we know that because of the way that they talk to us," Mercieca says.

They are canned, prepared and rehearsed, while the impression is that Trump is spontaneous, authentic and candid.

His rhetoric is much like that of a stand-up comedian, says Marc Jampole, a blogger and poet from New York City. He says a typical Trump speech has the structure of a stand-up routine.

"Most stump speeches have a beginning, a middle and an end and follow classic speech structure, which basically is tell the audience what you're going to say, say it, and then tell them what you just said," Jampole says. "Trump doesn't do that. It appears to be free-form just like a comedian."

Jampole says Trump's followers hear him as a comic hero and a disruptor.

"It was Rodney Dangerfield or Jackie Mason in the Caddy Shack movies where these two comedians played rich guys who were really average Joes breaking down the barriers of elite institutions," he says.

Use the audio link above to hear the full story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Siegel is senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel is still at it hosting the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reporting on stories and happenings all over the globe. As a host, Siegel has reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
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