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

Delegates hold up signs with the Clinton campaign slogan during last month's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Delegates hold up signs with the Clinton campaign slogan during last month's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.