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4 Trump speeches analyzed: He talks a lot about immigration and himself

Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus event at the Iowa Events Center on January 15, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus event at the Iowa Events Center on January 15, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Updated January 24, 2024 at 8:10 AM ET

Donald Trump has re-emerged into full view. The former president's performance in the early Republican primaries makes it clear he's not about to leave the political stage; and that compels critics, supporters, and others to reckon with him once again.

Though Trump is one of the most famous people in the world, he's been less visible in recent years than he was in the white-hot glare of his presidency. He lost the bully pulpit of the White House, his social media presence was diminished, and TV networks generally avoided carrying his unreliable statements live. Most people have heard him through video clips of his campaign rallies — or his appearances in various courts.

He comes across differently when speaking at length, as he has while campaigning. NPR analyzed four Trump speeches, given on four consecutive evenings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Five themes emerged.

Immigration remains his passion

Trump repeats many lines again and again, and is still playing an old favorite from his 2016 campaign. Herecites lyrics to "The Snake," about a serpent that bites and kills a woman who takes it into her home. "That's our border," he said in Indianola, Iowa.

They're coming in from mental institutions and insane asylums. Insane asylum. That's a step beyond. That's Silence of the Lambs. That's Hannibal Lecter.

In addition to comparing immigrants to poisonous creatures, he repeats a false claim about them. His campaign has been unable to offer evidence forhis statement that countries "all over the world" are closing mental institutions to send the inmates to the United States.

In the four speeches, Trump also made policy promises, saying he would direct "the largest deportation in history" and that he would grant "immunity" to the Border Patrol and other law enforcement officers who are disciplined for misconduct. (Many law enforcement officers already have "qualified immunity" from lawsuits; Trump did not clarify how much farther he would go.)

A focus on individuals, not policy

In his speeches, it was more common for Trump to refer to policies without detailing them. Some policies went unmentioned; he didn't speak of plans to reshape federal agencies to make them more directly responsible to a president's demands, or his recent reference to being a "dictator" on his first day.

Trump reserves longer passages for his grievances against individuals, including fellow Republicans.

Heaccusedboth New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu and Iowa governor Kim Reynolds of disloyalty for failing to enforce his bid to return to the presidency.

In one speech, he made an extended argument that Reynolds should have given her personal loyalty to Trump in exchange for his official acts as president. He mentioned his ethanol policies, which many Iowa farmers disliked; "I gave her ethanol, I gave her everything," Trump said. He also mentioned a chance occurrence: Reynolds was promoted to the governorship when Trump appointed her predecessor Ambassador to China.

I don't do quid pro quo, but when I came in, I said, 'by the way, are you going to endorse me?' She said 'I'd rather remain neutral.' I said, Wow, you're going to remain neutral. Wait a minute. I gave you the position.

He didn't say the "a-word"

Trump made abortion a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, attracting religious conservatives by explicitly promising to appoint Supreme Court justices who would end the right to abortion. Now that the Court majority has kept his campaign promise, Trump didn't seem to brag as much as he did about other accomplishments.

He has said support for abortion rights has made the issue a liability; and in the four speeches we analyzed, Trump never said the word "abortion." He spoke only this passing phrase:

We will protect innocent life and we will restore free speech.

President Biden's campaign remains eager to raise the issue. Vice President Harris is campaigning this week on abortion rights.

He definitely did say the "i-word"

Trump could hardly stop talking about his various prosecutions. In four speeches, he said "indict" or "indicted" 48 times. While talking constantly of his legal problems, he transformed them into a defense of his supporters.

Never forget: our enemies want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom.

Trump has branded the prosecutions as illegitimate, and many have followed along. In Iowa, media entrance polls showed that two-thirds of Iowa GOP caucus goers said that even if Trump is indicted, they would still consider him fit to be president.

His indictments are about the voters, not him

Trump is currently facing four of federal indictments as well as several civil cases in New York. The indictments have become a cornerstone of his campaign.

In his speeches, Trump turns the indictments into a "badge of honor," that he's proud of because he's protecting his voters from a similar fate.

Yet, he rarely mentions the acts for which he was indicted

Two of the four indictments against Trump center on his effort to overturn his 2020 election defeat. The culmination of his work was the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. In the four speeches, Trump never mentioned the attack.

He did nod to conspiracy theories about voting machines and early voting. He called to eliminate both, even though his party has been trying to rebuild the use of early voting.

We will go to paper ballots. We will have one day voting and we will have a thing called voter I.D.

Over a broader span of time, Trump has spoken in various ways about the January 6 attack. He sometimes has minimized it, sometimes has blamed someone else for it, and also has described the January 6th defendants as "hostages"

After the four speeches analyzed by NPR, Trump gave one more speech in which he did mention January 6, but apparently got a name wrong. "Nikki Haley was in charge of security" on that day, he said.

Haley was not in charge of Capitol security at any time. It's widely thought that Trump meant to say Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, who also was not in charge of security.

But Haley is on the former president's mind. In the speeches we analyzed, Trump suggested there was something unfair about the New Hampshire primary: people who haven't declared a party affiliation can vote, and Trump feared that Democrats would "infiltrate" and vote for her.

It was an example of the grievances and conspiratorial thinking that were major themes of all the speeches.

The audio portion of this piece was produced by Lily Quiroz.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ally Schweitzer
Ally Schweitzer (she/her) is an editor with NPR's Morning Edition. She joined the show in October 2022 after eight years at WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington.
Mansee Khurana
[Copyright 2024 NPR]