Trump Can Say ‘Witch Hunt’ as Many Times as He Wants

Using repetition of a message can be persuasive—but the indictments keep coming.

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

In his previous life as a businessman, Donald Trump was known as a master brander. His premise was this: If you put my name on your products, you can charge a premium. Hence the Trump hotels, Trump models, Trump steaks, and Trump vodka. (Also water bottles, board games, magazines, shoes, ties, deodorant, mattresses, and chandeliers.) Most of his business was licensing his name so that others could make a buck.

When he moved into politics, Trump brought the same adman mentality to the job. The marketing messages were different—“Drain the swamp,” “Build the wall,” “Lock her up”—but the attempt to use repetition as a form of persuasion was the same. Trump’s reaction to the revelations by U.S. intelligence officials that Russians interfered with the election has been public denial. But even these denials have taken the form of branded messaging. According to Trump, the special counsel is on a “witch hunt.” The Russia story is a “hoax.” And there was “no collusion!” Trump repeats these refrains constantly.

The president can, as a result, leave the impression that he has a limited vocabulary. But really he is using a technique that works. As Nielsen has found, “Practice (repetition) indeed makes perfect—and can help create durable memories.” In other words, the more a viewer sees or hears  a branded message, the more likely she will remember it. This repetitive-messaging technique works remarkably well on people, but it won’t change the facts of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Mueller has charged more than 30 people so far in his investigation into the 2016 election. That’s many more indictments than other presidential scandals have yielded in the same amount of time. Eight men have pleaded guilty. Trump’s claims of persecution ring increasingly hollow with each indictment; as David Graham wrote for this magazine last year: “If this is a witch hunt, Mueller has uncovered a whole coven.”