Southern Debates and Debacles: Use of Rhetoric in Political Speech

Southern Debates and Debacles: Use of Rhetoric in Political Speech


Rhetoric is an ancient form of art that uses language for persuasion (Whatley & Douglas 7). It is used as a skill in influencing a particular message to an intended audience. The rhetoric triangle approach focuses on the writer, audience, and context, as key factors that impact an argument (Whately& Douglas 9). Orators seek to appeal to people’s emotions and logic while establishing their credibility using ethical, logical, and pathetic approaches as will be witnessed in this analysis of Republican and Democratic contestants in their debate speeches over years (Sayler & Molly 57). The secret to being a successful speaker is to find a precise balance between the three approaches (Rogers 23).

The speakers chosen for this review were Hillary Clinton contesting on a Democrat’s seat, and Donald Trump from the Republican side. The contestants were required to respond to major issues affecting the country, for example, the Syria crisis, health policy, gun laws, and economic policies among others. Each of the speakers is unique in their sense. Hillary attempts to appeal to the audiences’ emotions by portraying herself as a hard worker from a humble background by being the granddaughter of a factory worker. Her intention is to depict that her personal and political success was not handed to her. She also appeals to the audience ethically by making a statement that she traveled all over the country listening to, and learning from average citizens. It validates her ethically as she presents herself as someone trustworthy, because her ability to interact with the people makes her understand their problems better. Her ethical appeal is a bit weak because she is marred with inconsistency on her stand on various issues like the U.S invasion of Iraq. Donald Trump uses a very radical and rudimentary way of appealing to the audience. He is already controversial and uses his personality as it is to capture the audience. Trump does not need pathetic appeal. He is straightforward in his speech using a mixture of insolence and authority to state his points logically. For example, he does not deny paying politicians and accepts that he does so to gain future favors. This paper opts to focus on the use of logic as applied to both candidates to address issues raised in the debate.

The use of ethical rhetoric approach: Clinton vs. Trump

Clinton and Trump are two different in personalities and political stands. This comparison will review their ethical approach in establishing their individual credibility and authority to the audience, in a bid to attract support. The comparison will mainly focus on how the candidates introduce themselves and how they respond to personal critique from other contestants. In the beginning, Hillary attempts to connect with the audience by portraying herself as a person able to understand the ordinary citizen. She speaks of traveling all over the country listening to the people’s needs. This adds to her credibility as an individual concerned about people’s needs and takes action by listening to them at the grass root level. Trump, on the other hand, uses a different kind of credibility approach. He is known from his famous show as a no-nonsense guy who speaks freely without filter of faltering.  He uses his existing reputation to paint his credibility as an individual who is true to himself regardless of the context; be it for showbiz, business, or politics. When asked whether he will support any other candidate or run independently, he states that he would only support himself as a Republican candidate.

The two people respond differently to criticism against themselves. When Clinton is confronted about regularly changing her stand on issues to fit the political atmosphere, she establishes her credibility by accepting the claims but gives an alternative situation. On the trading deal, she stated that initially she thought it was a golden idea after being exposed to new information and over time, she realized the contract was not good enough for America. Others include the homosexuality subject, the presence of American troops in Libya and Iraq, and U.S involvement in Syria. She also responds by appealing to people’s emotions when she states that her indecisiveness is as a result of being exposed to new information, thus painting her as someone who lacks control over the future or new occurrences. Trump is accused of being politically incorrect by insulting Mexicans. He also doesn’t deny his remarks and affirms his authority by giving logical facts. Clinton is careful not to incriminate the ruling government, which she is part of, on the issue of American troops in foreign countries. She neither fully supports nor entirely refutes the cause. Trump speaks out his full objection towards the matter regardless of who gets offended by his remarks.

In comparison, Trump asserts more authority than Clinton because he is not afraid of taking his stand, no matter how controversial it is. Even though Clinton may have a better personal reputation than the Republican, her inability to give straight answers on issues lowers her credibility and authority. Trump uses his famous reputation of being crude, and still stands up for what he believes is right in his sense. He appears to be more convincing and authoritative than his Democrat opponent. If these two were to have a head to head debate, Donald Trump would be the clear winner if measured using his ability to influence the audience his personality.

Works Cited

Rogers, William. Persuasion: Messages, Receivers, and Contexts. Lanham, Md: Rowman &

Littlefield, 2007. Print.

Sayler, Robert N, and Molly B. Shadel. Tongue-tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal

Persuasion. Austin [Tex.: Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 2011. Print.

Whately, Richard, and Douglas Ehninger. Elements of Rhetoric: Comprising an Analysis of the

Laws of Moral Evidence and of Persuasion, with Rules for Argumentative Composition and Elocution. Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010. Internet resource.