How 'Stronger Together' Became Clinton's Response To 'Make America Great Again'

Aug 8, 2016
Originally published on August 8, 2016 6:38 pm

From the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has had a bold and memorable, if implicitly negative, slogan, "Make America great again."

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, struggled to settle on a slogan. There was "breaking down barriers" and "fighting for us" and "I'm with her." None had staying power. Now she has one, "stronger together," and she can thank Trump for giving it new meaning.

As the Democratic primary was winding down, Clinton and her team settled in on "stronger together." It worked its way into Clinton's speeches and onto her signs. It was a serviceable slogan, with layered meaning, said David Axelrod, the former top adviser to President Obama.

"She, I think, was struggling in the Democratic primaries to identify a message and a tag line that summed up the purpose of her campaign," said Axelrod. "Donald Trump has given her a purpose."

Donald Trump also gave Clinton a rhetorical gift during his acceptance speech during the Republican convention when he declared, "No one knows the system better than me," and that "I alone can fix it."

At a rally the very next morning in Tampa, Fla., Clinton was already talking about Trump's line.

"I can't really imagine him on a white horse, but that seems to be what he's telling us. 'I alone can fix it,'" said Clinton.

Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon said "stronger together" is sort of a shorter, 21st century version of the idea behind Clinton's 1996 book: It Takes A Village.

Fallon acknowledged that the slogan was always meant to offset what he described as Trump's divisive proposals, but "it took on an added dimension after the conventions when [Trump] so clearly positioned himself as somebody who was the sole person that could potentially solve the country's challenges."

By the time of her own convention less than a week later, Clinton had intertwined "I alone can fix it" with her own slogan.

"Yes, those were actually Donald Trump's words in Cleveland and they should set off alarm bells for all of us," said Clinton. "He's forgetting every last one of us. Americans don't say 'I alone can fix it.' We say, 'we'll fix it together.'"

Around the convention hall, Democrats waved blue signs with the words "stronger" and "together" in white print.

"Stronger together" is more rhetorical oatmeal than Fruity Pebbles. But with its simplicity, the slogan sends a message, said Fred Davis, a Republican media strategist.

"You can have your fun at a Metallica concert but this is being president and it's a serious endeavor. I don't hope that they continue that way, but I think 'stronger together,' because it is so boring, was the right move," said Davis, who's been behind memorable campaign slogans such as "one tough nerd" for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

Clinton's campaign seems to be betting that steady and boring wins the race.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

From the very beginning of this presidential campaign, Donald Trump has had a bold, memorable, some might say implicitly negative slogan - make America great again. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, struggled to settle on a slogan. Now she has one - stronger together. And she can thank Donald Trump for giving it new meaning. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There was breaking down barriers, and fighting for us, and I'm with her. And then as the Democratic primary was winding down, Clinton and her team settled in on stronger together. It worked its way into Clinton's speeches and onto her signs. It was a serviceable slogan with layered meaning, says David Axelrod, the former senior adviser to President Obama.

DAVID AXELROD: She, I think, was struggling in the Democratic primaries to identify a message and a tag line that summed up the purpose of her campaign. Donald Trump has given her a purpose.

KEITH: And in his speech at the Republican convention, Donald Trump also gave Clinton a rhetorical gift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

DONALD TRUMP: Nobody knows this system better than me...

KEITH: Trump was talking about the political system. But what he delivered was a line that gave Clinton's slogan extra oomph.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TRUMP: ...Which is why I alone can fix it.

KEITH: The next day at a rally in Tampa, Fla., Clinton was already talking about that line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: I can't really imagine him on a white horse but...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: ...That seems to be what he's telling us - I alone can fix it.

KEITH: Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon says stronger together is sort of a shorter, 21st-century version of the idea behind Clinton's 1996 book, "It Takes A Village." And yes, he says, the slogan was always meant to offset what he calls Trump's divisive proposals. But...

BRIAN FALLON: It took on an added dimension after the conventions when he so clearly positioned himself as somebody who was the sole person that could potentially solve the country's challenges.

KEITH: By the time of her own convention less than a week later, Clinton had intertwined I alone can fix it with her own slogan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: Yes, those were actually Donald Trump's words in Cleveland. And they should set off alarm bells for all of us.

KEITH: Around the convention hall, Democrats waved blue signs with the words stronger and together in white print.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: He's forgetting every last one of us. Americans don't say, I alone can fix it. We say, we'll fix it together.

KEITH: Stronger together isn't going to set anyone's hair on fire. It's more oatmeal than Fruity Pebbles. Republican media strategist Fred Davis is the man behind memorable campaign slogans such as one tough nerd. He thinks the Clinton camp is sending a message with its simplicity.

FRED DAVIS: Hey, you know, you can have your fun at a Metallica concert, but this is being president. And it's a serious endeavor. So I think they're right on target. I don't hope that they continue that way. But I think stronger together, because it's so boring, was the right move.

KEITH: Clinton's campaign seems to be betting that steady and boring wins the race. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.