Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Trump serves up non-answer word salads, Rubio brave (if canned) eloquence

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Donald Trump is great at non-answer word salads in which he not only interrupts the questioner but constantly interrupts himself, puts out little self-congratulatory asides and says whatever he wants.

I’m a glutton for punishment. There were not debates Wednesday night, but two of the news channels held “town hall meeting” interviews with Republican presidential candidates. MSNBC had Donald Trump all to themselves, from Greenville, South Carolina. Moderators Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of the “Morning Joe” program asked a few decent questions but did a horrible job of insisting on actual answers.

Trump is great at non-answer word salads in which he not only interrupts the questioner but constantly interrupts himself, puts out little self-congratulatory asides and says whatever he wants, usually things he has said a million times before but which often qualify as non-answers.

Trump has made a yuuuge deal about how he warned in advance, long and loud, that the Iraq War would be a disaster. Joe asked him about why no one can find any transcript of him saying anything remotely along these lines until after the war started. His explanation, Thursday night and I guess every time he is asked this, is to say that because he wasn’t in public office or anything, his prescient warnings didn’t make it into any transcripts or video archives. Then he goes right back to claiming to have said it long and loud and in advance and doesn’t explain why so many of his later statements about the war (which are far more mixed than he describes them) manage to show up in the public record, since he was still not in public office or anything.

Over on CNN, Anderson Cooper and an audience of South Carolinians questioned, in succession, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz.

Carson was strange, sweet, likeable and irrelevant, which has become standard. Cruz was smart, logical and dislikeable, but he definitely does answer the questions he is asked. I didn’t find myself writing down much that either of them said.

Rubio, I thought, was on his game. He is a gifted presenter, fluid, has a knack for self-deprecating humor, and excellent at projecting sincerity. One of his mini-speeches, about racial inequities, was so good I’ve transcribed it below, and I’ll just make a couple of observations at the end.

Here’s what Rubio said:

Now, you talk about race relations.  It’s a difficult issue in this country.  I can tell you, and I know a lot of it is centered around law enforcement and police departments. So let me begin by saying very clearly, I know for a fact that the overwhelming majority of the men and women who serve us in law enforcement are incredible people, who, every single day, put their lives potentially on the line for our safety and for our security.

But I also know that there are communities in this country where minority communities and the police department have a terrible relationship. I personally know someone — who happens to be a police officer and a young African-American male — who told me that he has been pulled over seven, eight times in the last four years and never gets a ticket.

What is he supposed to think?

He gets pulled over for no reason, never gets a ticket, no one has any explanation for why he’s being pulled over. What is he supposed to think?

I know that in this country, there is a significant number, particularly of young African-American males, who feel as if they’re treated differently than the rest of society.  And here’s the bottom line, whether you agree with them or not… if a significant percentage of the American family believes that they are being treated differently than everyone else, we have a problem. And we have to address it as a society and as a country, because I do not believe we can fulfill our potential as a nation unless we address that.

I’m not sure there’s a political solution to that problem but there are things we can do. For example, one of the reasons why you see both educational and academic underperformance — not just in the African-American community but also in the Hispanic community — is because of how a disproportionate number of our children are growing up in broken homes in dangerous neighborhoods in substandard housing and forced by the government to attend a failing school. A child that’s born with four strikes against them is going to struggle to succeed unless something breaks that cycle. 

We’ve seen things that work. In New York City, Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children Zone has shown us what works. You get involved in the lives of children and you begin to address those strikes against them. And you can see the same results you would get anywhere else in the country.  

So I do believe as a society, we have to confront this issue in a responsible way because ultimately, if a significant percentage of the American family feels that they are locked out [of] the promise of America, we will never be able to fulfill our destiny as a great nation.  

A few thoughts.

Rubio is in South Carolina, before an overwhelmingly white audience, running in a Republican primary where there are very few African-Americans in the Republican primary electorate. (The Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina, by the way, has more blacks than whites.)

And despite a few little asides, he is asking the audience to at least consider the possibility that the belief among blacks that they are still victims of discrimination has some validity. (And by the way, as far as I could tell, the audience seemed quite receptive.) And the anecdote about his black policeman friend pushed the envelope a bit. And the repetition of “What is he supposed to think?” is haunting and challenging.

But he also emphasizes that “whether you agree with them or not” about the fact that they are not granted equal treatment, it’s a problem if they feel that way.

Rubio insisted that this audience consider what it might be like “growing up in broken homes in dangerous neighborhoods in substandard housing and forced by the government to attend a failing school. A child that’s born with four strikes against them is going to struggle to succeed unless something breaks that cycle.” That struck me as eloquent and brave, although it would be braver to lay out a plan to “break that cycle.”

And I feel a little jerkish pointing this out (he didn’t have Chris Christie helping the audience notice it), but degree to which Rubio relies on canned — if eloquent — phrases, like the kind that got him in so much trouble in the New Hampshire debate, is still much in evidence. Note by the phrases I put in bold face in the transcript.

Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 02/18/2016 - 10:26 am.

    Trump and Cruz lead in the polls

    A non-answer word salad is pretty much what each of the GOP candidates offers up as answers. Example everything Carson says. They are so used to only criticizing they don’t have any viable answers. They can’t just be against everything. At some point they will have to be for something. For now apparently these are the qualifications needed for most of the GOP electorate to vote for Trump and Cruz.
    The candidate must:
    • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
    • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it.
    • Exaggerate their achievements and talents.
    • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
    • Believe that they are superior.
    • Require constant admiration.
    • Have a sense of entitlement.
    • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations.
    • Take advantage of others to get what they want.
    • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
    • Be envious of others and believing others envy them.
    • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.
    Not a very high bar for acceptance by the GOP voters.

    • Submitted by Robert Owen on 02/18/2016 - 10:56 am.

      The same could be said about Hillary Clinton. Well, except that part about the perfect mate.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/18/2016 - 11:08 am.

        The Exact Same

        Because equivalence, right? That, and the strain of seeing no posted Hillary snark.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/18/2016 - 11:12 am.

        Hillary Clinton

        used a teleprompter to deliver her concession speech in New Hampshire. So there’s that.

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/18/2016 - 12:26 pm.


          I’m not sure what the obsession with teleprompters is. Really. What is it?

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/18/2016 - 01:01 pm.

            It’s Ignorance of Viewers

            Formal addresses have been (with exception, of course) given from written or printed manuscript…for obvious reasons of accuracy, continuity and official record. Without manuscripts, today we would not truly know what was truly spoken in some distant time. The teleprompter is simply the new technology of that tradition. Manuscripts are also regularly submitted to news agencies prior to public address, for reasons of clarity and courtesy.

            Yes, in his early campaign days and even now, Pres. Obama reverted to taking portable prompters everywhere to factory floors and other gatherings. He simply has difficulty addressing groups fluently without them. Sometimes his messages get muddled without text to follow.

            From a Speech class view, Barack Obama is an effective Orator, but a mediocre extemporaneous speaker. In impromptu situations, like the Rancho Mirage presser, he tends to look down at his podium, appearing either thoughtful or ambivalent. In his case, teleprompters also help keep him focused on audience and cameras.

            So, teleprompters improve mass communication and provide textual records for archives.
            There is absolutely nothing wrong with teleprompters, given effective use by any formal speaker.

            Glad you asked, Rachel. This petty derision has been bugging me, as well.

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/19/2016 - 08:23 am.

              Thank you Mr. Million

              I appreciate your comment. Personally, I can give public speeches, but have a hard time memorizing anything, so if that’s a requirement, pffft! I’m decent at extemporaneous speaking, but sometimes I have to grasp for a word that has slipped my mind. It’s not that I’m a poor speaker or an unintelligent person, but simply imperfect. I just never understood why that was a big deal.

              • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/19/2016 - 12:38 pm.

                I suspect

                you are a good speaker, given the regular coherence of your written comments.

                Regular opportunities for extemp. speaking provide the greatest growth in effective communication: naturalism, personalized contact, flexibility of circumstance and message, and overall impact.
                Memorization of text is not generally advised, for obvious reasons of inflexibility and mind blocks.

                Much better to be ordered but extemporaneous, with personal contact and reactions.

                The venerable 3 x 5 card is your best friend. The current and more effectively flexible tool is the Blackberry, where one’s outline may be stored and casually referenced while speaking. These devices also afford the easy flexibility of editing messages from audience to audience.

                In his corporate speaking days for General Electric, Ronald Reagan spoke on many factory floors from note cards. To keep his message and himself fresh, he often simply shuffled that deck from one stop to the next, sometimes during his speech.
                Pretty clever, that.

                Today, our “devices” provide even more flexibility of message and accuracy of information. As you watch various stump speeches, look for smart phones on the podium used by smart speakers.

          • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/18/2016 - 01:25 pm.

            People who criticize Rubio

            for using “canned phrases” should acknowledge that at least they’re not being read from a teleprompter.

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/19/2016 - 08:27 am.


              There’s a difference between a canned speech or canned phrases, and whether or not a person needs notes in front of them. Perhaps if Rubio stopped trying to memorize pretty phrases and simply said what he meant, memorized or not, he’d sound less like a robot. It’s not an insignificant thing, by the way, even if it is silly on the part of the voters. Both John Kerry and Al Gore had somewhat wooden presentation, and it cost Kerry the election (Gore lost by other means). It doesn’t mean that they didn’t have important ideas or the ability to run the country, it just meant that the voters were not stirred enough to come out and vote in the numbers necessary to turn those ideas into action.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/18/2016 - 01:08 pm.

          At least

          she knows how to read and write.

          • Submitted by Robert Owen on 02/19/2016 - 09:23 am.

            And her opponents can’t read and write?

            • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/19/2016 - 03:11 pm.

              Let’s Just Say that SOME of Them

              Have a difficult time with reading COMPREHENSION,…

              not to mention drawing logical conclusions based on facts and evidence.

              There may be a completely OTHER reason why many politicians speak from a printed text or use a teleprompter.

              This won’t surprise those of you who wade through my comments here on MinnPost,…

              but in my early days as a pastor, I discovered that, if I preached from an outline, I could talk at very great, even excessive length,…

              length which didn’t fit well into my church’s traditional one hour services.

              I began preaching from a printed text as a means of cutting down and focusing what I intended to say, because I could always come up with a great deal more to say than time would reasonably allow.

              It had NOTHING to do with whether I could memorize material or speak well extemporaneously,…

              and everything to do with not making my church members an or more hour late for their subsequent Sunday activities.

              I doubt that anyone these days would well tolerate the kinds of lengthy speeches Huber Humphrey (may he rest in peace) used to give,…

              not to mention that a politician giving such speeches could not make nearly as many appearances as today’s style of campaigning requires.

              Using a teleprompter helps prevent orators from going on way too long,…

              allows them to look the audience in the eyes while speaking,…

              and allows the speaker to be spontaneous without losing track of what they intended to say.

              And, of course, NONE of our Republican friends even noticed that teleprompters were being used by most politicians starting many years ago,…

              (by late in his second term, Ronald Reagan was completely incoherent without his),…

              until it became a reflexive “conservative” tick and talking point in relation to Barrack Obama.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/18/2016 - 11:15 am.

    Rubio’s Content

    I give him a lot of credit for what he said. It is easy to say a political party is reaching out to different demographics by having a few personalities appear on the scene, but it is another thing entirely to acknowledge real problems and real issues. The question is, will it resonate with the Republican base? Will they agree that these are problems that need to be addressed, or will it all be dismissed as “just the way some people think. It’s too bad for them if they can’t get over it?”

    I would be interested to read what Senator Rubio proposes as a solution. Are there real initiatives he intends to propose, or will it be the “same old, same old” of tax breaks and cutting regulation? Are we going to try to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone with real government initiatives to improve lives, or are we just going to stand back and rain platitudes on billionaires who swoop into a poor neighborhood and build flashy charter schools? Let us see what he has in mind.

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 02/18/2016 - 12:07 pm.

    Plain Lettuce

    Well, Eric, I suggest Trump’s “word salad” is easily digested by many simply because he uses bib lettuce and iceberg lettuce…no arugula, romaine or kale.

    The dressing of choice also seems to be the venerable Middle-American Combo: french/blue cheese.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/18/2016 - 12:31 pm.

      True, true

      The word equivalent of a low quality, water, fiber, and opaque orangish liquid with sugar, fat and questionable chunks meal. Don’t get me wrong, I like to mix my dressings, too, but if I’m going to go with cold and simple, I’m going to try to make it worth my while.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/18/2016 - 01:11 pm.


        I truly believe Donald prefers a very good vinaigrette in private.
        He likely forgoes croutons, but that’s a wild guess.
        No thoughts on onions…

        If you could make the perfect salad for him, what would you use?

        Let’s have some fun. .

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/18/2016 - 02:31 pm.

          Cole Slaw

          Preferably the kind with pineapple chunks in it.

          The man has money, but he has no class. I think this would suit him.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/18/2016 - 09:29 pm.


            Purple or Plain?

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/19/2016 - 08:31 am.


              Ask him. Today he’ll tell you purple because it’s flashy and flashy makes America a winner. Believe him. America will be great again if we all ate purple cabbage. Tomorrow, he’ll tell you that he said green. Because green is American. And America will win again. Believe him. America will be great again if we built a wall at the Mexican border and made Mexico pay for it so those illegal immigrants don’t bring purple cabbage over here and steal American jobs.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/18/2016 - 03:41 pm.

          Goat cheese

          tossed with sour grapes.

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/19/2016 - 12:33 pm.


          I thought (way too long) about this and came to the conclusion that The Donald probably doesn’t do salad very often. He just doesn’t seem like a salad guy, more like one of those guys who dismisses most green things as “bunny food.” I did get curious while I was thinking, and thought “The Donald likes to talk about himself. I bet there’s something out there that might give me some insight.” Sure enough, The Donald deigned to list 25 things people probably didn’t know about him to US magazine (
          His favorite foods:
          See’s candy
          His sister’s meatloaf
          Pizza toppings (no dough)
          Cherry vanilla ice cream

          Of course the veracity of his answers is put into question by the last one:
          “I’m actually very modest.”

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/19/2016 - 01:06 pm.

            Oh, Oh

            I also like most of those items (don’t know his sister, by the way).

            So, am I in trouble here?

            Does seem I was correct about the croutons (no carbs, no dough)
            Of course, Trump needs no more “dough,” does he?

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/19/2016 - 04:15 pm.

              Morally or physically?

              I won’t judge based on having an overlap of favorite things with the Donald. But you might want to talk to your physician about putting some salad in your diet.

          • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/19/2016 - 01:27 pm.

            Dietary suicide

            Wow. I’m more than a little surprised that Mr. Trump’s history of cardiac “events” doesn’t rival that of another modest American “patriot,” Dick Cheney. I understand that there’s a difference between “favorites” and what one eats as a regular diet, but what he’s suggested is pretty much the antithesis of “healthy.”

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/18/2016 - 12:15 pm.

    Perhaps Rubio should clarify why he claims that Obama is, with malice aforethought, deliberately trying to hurt America.

    (As you may recall, this is his repeated claim–so it’s not a casual one-off)

    Then we might get somewhere in terms of Rubio’s deep concern about the divides in America.

    Until then, Rubio is dealing in the politics of the “other”. And that certainly does not promote the idea of a nation of diversity.

  5. Submitted by Roy Everson on 02/19/2016 - 03:12 pm.

    Mary Poppins call your service!

    In the reaction to his robotic debate-night persona the content of Rubio’s talking point was lost despite its frequent repetition. He is nakedly going after the hardcore Obama haters who suspect the vilest motives and origins in the president. Describes many a Trump voter — a big get for any candidate. Rubio’s far-right on many issues to compete with Cruz for the ideolgical diehards. Another big get, but, like the Trump wing of the party, difficult for many Sam’s Club Republicans to swallow.

    However as the one anointed “the party unifier” Rubio’s developed an appealing spiel on race. They are lovely words. Should mainstream elements of their coalition need it, they’ve got a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

  6. Submitted by Jim Million on 02/21/2016 - 10:26 am.


    that brings us back to salad dressing sugar content.

    I respect your reference to Sam’s Club.

    HRC, it seems to me, is clearly going for the Costco Crowd.

Leave a Reply