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Rhetorical Recap: Voice-to-Voice Combat

Clinton Speech on Trump and the US Economy, Columbus Ohio, June 21, 2016; Trump Speech on Clinton, New York, NY, June 22, 2016

The exchange of accusations between the Clinton and Trump campaigns reached the intensity of political war this week. The big artillery consisted of dueling speeches about each other’s lack of qualifications for the presidency.

Below I’ve cut and pasted excerpts into a simulated dialogue in order to convey the level of invective. I do not mean to impute Clinton-Trump equivalency on any other criteria, such as the strategic value, facticity, or exhibited character qualities that go with the claims. I also do not mean to suggest that assaulting each other’s fitness for the office accounts for the entirety of these speeches. Clinton also reached out to white working class voters, a Trump core constituency she won in her 2008 primary race against Obama, by outlining her “Make It In America” program to reverse manufacturing job losses. Trump listed actions he would take to make America right, safe, and great again.

Mostly, however, this was a rhetorical firefight:

CLINTON: “Just like he should not have his finger on the button, he should not have his hand on our economy.” (No illusions to the size of his hand.)

TRUMP: “Hillary Clinton, and as you know she —most people know she’s a world-class liar.”

CLINTON: “Every day we see how reckless and careless Trump is….there is a difference between getting tough on trade and recklessly starting trade wars.”

TRUMP: “The other candidate in this race has spent her entire life making money for special interests, and I will tell you, she’s made plenty of money for them and she’s been taking plenty of money out for herself. Hillary Clinton has perfected the politics of personal profit and even theft.”

CLINTON: “He calls himself the King of Debt. His tax plan sure lives up to that name….A few days ago he said, and I quote, ‘I am going to do for the country what I did for my business.’ Let’s take a look at what he did for his business. He has written a lot of books about this, about business. They all seem to end at Chapter 11.”

TRUMP: “Hillary Clinton gave China millions of jobs, and our best jobs, and effectively let China completely rebuild itself. In return, Hillary Clinton got rich.”

CLINTON: “Today, his properties are sold, shuttered, or falling apart. And so are a lot of people’s lives. Here’s what he says about that: ‘Atlantic City was a very good cash cow for me for a long time.’ Remember that the next time you see him talking on TV.”

TRUMP: “No Secretary of State has been more wrong, more often and in more places than Hillary Clinton. Her decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched….In just four years, Secretary Clinton managed to almost single-handedly destabilize the entire Middle East.”

CLINTON: “He has been involved in more than 3500 lawsuits in the last 30 years. And a large number were filed by ordinary Americans and small businesses that did work for Trump, and never got paid.”

TRUMP: “Hillary Clinton may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency of the United States.”

In 1988 and 2000, the last times a party sought a third term with a successor president, the Democratic nominees (Michael Dukakis and Al Gore) lacked the disposition for verbal aggression in comparison with the Bushes on the Republican side. This year, even as a third Bush proved more like Dukakis and Gore in his distaste for bloodsport, the Democrat goes at it full-tilt, matching the Republican. Hillary would sell the helmeted ride in a tank, and she does not wear earth-toned clothes. Trump, for his part, emulates the take-no-prisoners style of his political mentor Roy Cohn.

How much of this can they give and we take? From a campaign standpoint, no one wants to leave an accusation unanswered. From a voter standpoint, the sound of two car alarms going off simultaneously may irritate individual signals to the point of blocking them. On the other hand, this back-and-forth beatdowning resembles the climax of a good play.

So the impact on voters is indeterminate right now. With four and one-half months to go in the clamorous ALL CAPS third act.

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