Trump, Your Rhetoric is Showing: How His ‘Nasty Woman’ Comment Reveals a Debate Strategy

Believe it or not, Trump’s insults have an internal logic to them. A rhetoric professor analyzes his argument style.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 20, 2016 11:33 am

After last night’s debate, dictionary maker Merriam-Webster reported that searches for “hombre” spiked 120,000 percent, as did look-ups for its homonyms ombre and ombré.

Jennifer Mercieca, a professor at Texas A&M and rhetoric analyst, says Trump’s use of hombre was a “cartoonish portrayal of immigrants.”

“I don’t know that I was offended exactly but I did think that it sounded weird,” she says. “My thought was to wonder if there was some connection to the alt-right.”

Though Trump speaks off the cuff, Mercieca says he is “very strategic” in what he says. She’s writing a book about his rhetoric and the kinds of rhetorical fallacies he routinely makes.

“So argument ad populum is appeal to the wisdom of the crowd – he does that – and argument ad hominem is insulting the audience or insulting your opponent – he definitely does that,” she says. “He uses paralipses, where he says, ‘I’m not going to say it but I’m going to say it.’ He uses all these strategies consistently, which tells me that even if he’s speaking off the cuff, he does have kind of a strategic plan.”

One of Trump’s ad hominem attacks came while Clinton was explaining a tax plan she has proposed, saying that her taxes will go up, as will Trump’s – to which Clinton added “assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it.” Trump interrupted her to say, “Such a nasty woman.”

Mercieca says the “nasty woman” comment was “absolutely about gender.” An argument like that is meant to suggest that the attacker has no credibility and isn’t worth addressing.

“He treats anyone who criticizes him as an enemy,” she says, “and as someone who is irrational and unworthy of responding to.”

Post by Hannah McBride.