Vincent Harris Quoted on “Trump campaign slogan bound for immortality; his rival’s, maybe not”

PHILADELPHIA — The tight presidential race is uneven in at least one department: campaign slogans. While Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” is headed for the political messaging hall of fame, Hillary Clinton supporters make do with “I’m with her’’ and/or “Stronger Together.’’

Trump’s slogan is short, punchy, easy to say. It sums up his campaign philosophy and fits on the front of a baseball cap.

“Those are words to live by,’’ said Red Erskine, 45, of Parma, Ohio, who bought a T-shirt featuring the Trump mantra for his daughter at the Republican National Convention. “This is not the country I grew up in, and Donald Trump will do something about it.’’

Vincent Harris, a GOP message strategist who worked on Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, called the slogan “one of the most iconic in U.S. political history. …. It is in many ways the definition of the Trump campaign. It fired up the base and united factions.’’

Democrats like Sarah Burns, 66, from the Valley Glen section of Los Angeles, concede the obvious. “He’s got a good slogan,’’ she shrugs, quickly adding, “He has no solutions to make America greater.’’

Many voters, including some Clinton supporters, aren’t sure what her slogan is. The campaign eased out the primary season refrain, “I’m with her’’ (as opposed to him, Bernie Sanders) in favor of “Stronger Together’’ (against Trump) for the general election.

But at the Democratic convention, speakers used both slogans, sometimes in the same speech.

Before the conventions, the USA TODAY NETWORK’s 109 news organizations interviewed more than 170 Trump or Clinton supporters, some in every state, to understand their motives. Unbidden, Trump voters repeatedly used the phrase “make America great again.’’

No Clinton voter said “I’m with her,’’ although LaTarsha Hanna, 51, of Jackson, Tenn., did say: “Hillary knows that a great country is stronger when we work together.’’

Campaign and convention slogans usually are mere wallpaper. Who remembersJimmy Carter’s from 1976? (“A leader, for a change’’) John McCain’s from 2008? (“Country First”)  Hillary Clinton’s from the same year? (“Solutions for America”)

But this year both campaigns have used variations on their slogans as nightly convention themes (“Make America One Again,” “Make America Strong Again;’’ “United Together,” “Working Together”).

What makes “Make America Great Again” superior? Analysts cite several factors:

  • It’s road tested (but not too recently): The slogan was used to great effect by Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1980, and you can’t go wrong mimicking the Great Communicator. It’s recent enough to sound familiar, but not so recent to seem imitative. Same went for Obama’s 2008 “Yes we can,’’ borrowed from Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers
  • It encapsulates the message, which is: America was once great, and by voting for Trump you can make it great again.
  • It trips off the tongue. Ruth Sherman, a communications consultant and speech coach, says the words flow smoothly into each other, making them easy to say and hear. That’s particularly important when a phrase is repeated again and again.

But a slogan can take a campaign only so far. Take Trump’s criticism of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Muslim parents of a Pakistani-American soldier killed in Iraq; they argue that it’s people like their son, whom they say Trump would have kept out of the U.S., that makes the country great.

A ‘stronger’ slogan?

Experts agree that Stronger Together — ominously similar to the “Stronger In” slogan of the ill-fated campaign to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union — is better than “I’m with her,’’ but falls far short of Trump’s exhortation.

“When I heard ‘I’m with her,’ I thought, “Shouldn’t it be that she’s with me?’’ says Sherman. Also, she says, the slogan lacks “an aspirational quality. It says nothing about what could or will happen. … It’s better as a Twitter hash tag.’’

Nor is she crazy about “Stronger Together,” which she says seems to promise nothing more than incremental change: “People are in pain. If you can’t solve that pain, it’s hard to make them turn out to vote for you.’’

Trump has not been content to focus on his own slogan. Last month he told an audience that Clinton’s “I’m with her’’ shows that “she believes she is entitled to the office. … You know what my response to that is? I’m with you — the American people.”

He later posted a series of tweets with the hashtag #Imwithyou, and his campaign began offering T-shirts with Trump’s face above the slogan written in caps.

Sherman says a slogan only works if it fits the candidate. Barack Obama’s famous 2008 slogans, “Change we can believe in’’ and “Yes we can’’ meshed well with the candidate’s inspirational story and bid to become the first black president.

Obama embodied his own slogan, and so does Trump, who styles himself as a dealmaker. Even “Stronger Together,” whatever its faults, supports Clinton’s claim to be a consensus builder.

Matthew Kerbel, a Villanova University political scientist, offers a dissenting opinion on the existence of a “slogan gap’’ between the campaigns.

The campaign slogans, he says, “appeal to different constituencies and reflect different visions. Clinton’s is about unity, and it’s relatively optimistic.’’

Trump’s slogan, he adds, tries to appeal to a Republican constituency — the core of which may not be interested in the nation coming together — not to broaden his appeal.