News Tip: On Eve of GOP Debate, a ‘Rhetorical Arms Race,’ Expert Says

Republican candidates will debate Tuesday as controversy over Donald Trump’s comments continue 

Republican candidates for president will debate Tuesday night as controversy over Donald Trump’s comments continue to spread globally. The following Duke professors are available to comment on the debate and campaign rhetoric in general. Frederick Mayer• Quotes:“Rhetorical excess is the norm in political elections, but this season the language is notably extreme,” says Frederick “Fritz” Mayer, a professor of public policy, political science and environment in Duke. “As other candidates scramble to match Donald Trump, there is something of a rhetorical arms race on the right.” “Early in his campaign, Trump described Mexican immigrants in inflammatory terms: ‘When Mexico sends its people, they're … bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists ….’ Ben Carson followed, declaring we need to ‘seal the border.’ Then, after the bombings in Paris last month, Trump was quick to declare that ‘we are at war with radical Islam.’ Framed as “war,” military response is required. ‘I’d bomb the s*** out of them,’ thundered Thump. Ted Cruz, not to be outdone, reached for an even more dramatic flourish, declaring an intent to ‘carpet bomb (ISIS) into oblivion.’” “With the recent shootings in San Bernardino, the twin fears of immigration and Islam join in a specter of the enemy in our midst. ‘Our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad,’ said Trump, who promptly called for a ban on all Muslim immigration and, remarkably, pointed to the Japanese internment camps of WWII as a reasonable response.” “There is a core narrative invoked by all this rhetorical framing: ‘You should be afraid. Obama’s weak -- he can’t/won’t protect you. I’m strong -- I’ll protect you.’  It’s a powerful story for frightening times. And a dangerous one. The willingness of Trump and others to take rhetoric to new extremes not only coarsens the discourse, it legitimizes actions that would otherwise seem extreme.” • Bio:Frederick Mayer is a professor of public policy, political science and environment at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Mayer previously served as senior international trade and foreign policy adviser to former U. S. Sen. Bill Bradley, and as an aide to Congressman Sander Levin. His 2014 book, “Narrative and Collective Action,” addresses the role of stories in politics. • For additional comment, contact Mayer at:   David Siegel • Quotes: "Donald Trump's polling support requires media attention. The more attention he gets in the media, the more people focus on his candidacy, and the higher his poll numbers go. His strategy seems pretty clearly intended to maintain media attention by saying ever more outrageous things," says David Siegel, an associate professor of political science at Duke University. “In doing so he's playing to his strengths. He's typically vague about details, and looks to play up voters' fears. Risk-averse voters, worried about the unclear threat of terrorism, are willing to overlook the moral and practical flaws in his plans because they promise an easy elimination of their fear and a return to a perceived time without such worry. It helps that Trump constantly rails against the establishment and media both, making their criticisms seem less based in logic than they are and more as attacks on an outsider they don't like.” “Unfortunately, this behavior tends to induce a race to the bottom, where other candidates, not wanting to be shut out from media attention, try to match or one-up his positions. In doing so, though, they're implicitly betting that they can use the media better than Trump can, which seems a poor bet.” “In the debate, I'll be looking to see which candidates try to one up him, which engage on the opposite side and which try to stake out identities completely separate from Trump's in the hope of coalescing the establishment behind them.”  • Bio:David Siegel is an associate professor of political science at Duke. He specializes in collective action as it relates to political violence and terrorism, elections, opinion and identity formation. His research has been published in journals such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and Journal of Politics. • For more comment, contact David Siegel