The key to effective branding is repetition. Or so they say, I guess, or so I heard at some point in time. I mean, what do I know about branding?
I can be excused for thinking that repetition is important, though, given how heavily President Trump relies on repeating certain phrases and ideas with an eye toward locking them into our brains. “Make America great again” was a clever slogan, reinforced every time Trump put on his baseball cap. Since the election ended, it’s been replaced with another pithy little saying: “No collusion."
Trump offered it up Friday morning as he prepared to board Marine One on his way to tour tornado damage in Alabama.
“This had nothing to do with collusion,” he said, referring to his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort being sentenced Thursday to four years in prison. “There was no collusion. It’s a collusion hoax. It’s a collusion witch hunt. I don’t collude with Russia.” Trump went so far as to attribute the same determination to Manafort’s attorney and the judge who did the sentencing, though that isn’t really true.
In total, he said the phrase “no collusion” five times while waiting to depart for Alabama and added an all-caps mention on Twitter for good measure. According to the database of Trump comments, speeches and interviews at Factba.se, these were the 221st through 226th times that he used the phrase “no collusion” since May 2017.
The first time he used the expression, according to Factba.se’s data, was in his infamous interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, shortly after firing former FBI director James Comey.
“This was set up by the Democrats,” Trump said of the investigation into his campaign that Comey had acknowledged under oath a few months prior. “There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians. The other thing is the Russians did not affect the vote. And everybody seems to think that.”
That was the first mention. Here are the other 225, including today.
Notice that they often cluster around significant events in the Russia investigation or in his presidency. After significant new developments linking Trump’s team to Russia, though, he has at times been quiet. We’ve highlighted the revelation of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in July 2017 and the September 2017 Post report that Manafort had offered campaign briefings to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska of examples of unusual quiet.
Two of the busiest times were in August of last year, as Manafort was on trial. (He was convicted on eight felony charges at the same time that Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen was admitting to eight felonies of his own.) Another “no collusion”-heavy period was in the run-up to the midterm elections, when Trump would work it into his patter at campaign rallies.
Bear in mind: Trump could be saying something that is true. America is divided on what “collusion” would actually mean in the context of Trump’s denials, but if you think — as Trump apparently does — that it necessitates Trump having deliberately spoken with a Russian to agree to tilt the election, there’s no evidence that happened. No collusion (under that specific definition of what constitutes collusion)!
Trump could also be trying to define collusion as specifically that intimate an interaction to wave away the significance of things like the Trump Tower meeting. He could be trying not to brand his behavior as not being collusion but to brand collusion as being not what he did.
If so, we all know what comes next.