After Defeat: Changes in the Language of Ted Cruz and Chris Christie
July 23, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
Donald Trump is now the official presidential nominee of the Republican party. At the RNC convention, two of his former rivals, Ted Cruz and Chris Christie, returned for another moment in the spotlight. Interestingly, both also gave presentations at the 2012 RNC convention in support of Mitt Romney. Here we look at how Cruz and Christie have evolved from the 2012 convention through the 2016 primary debates to the 2016 RNC convention. We examine their language in their speeches and debates to determine how their emotional tone has shifted, how authentic they seem now, and how their thinking has changed providing a glimpse into how the Republican party has changed over these last four years.
Back in 2012, Christie was in his first term as governor of NJ. In his RNC speech, he talked about his own life, what he was doing as governor, and why he thought Mitt Romney should be president. His speech was relatively upbeat and optimistic using words like love, respect, and happy. During the 2016 primary debates, Christie lost some of that optimism, speaking more negatively. In his speech at the recent RNC, Christie devoted most of his time attacking Hillary Clinton barely mentioning Trump at all. His speech is full of negative emotion words eliciting anger and sadness like danger, death, and guilty. Christie’s latest speech is indicative of someone who is feeling defeated. Now he is stuck between the man who defeated him in the primary and a woman who he clearly dislikes, and it is understandable that Christie may be feeling somewhat depressed.
In 2012, Cruz was running for his Senate seat in Texas. He gave a positive, optimistic speech at the RNC convention discussing his own background and beliefs while endorsing Romney as the nominee. Like Christie, his tone during the 2016 primary debates was more negative and pessimistic perhaps reflecting a change in Republican sentiment. Cruz’s tone at the RNC convention this week was remarkably different from Christie’s. He had a very positive, upbeat tone focused on his own political beliefs rather than attacking Clinton or praising Trump. His positive tone was somewhat ironic given that Cruz’s speech was met with loud boos and cat-calls from the audience due to his refusing to endorse Trump for president. Perhaps, Cruz is moving on from his failure in this cycle and looking forward to his chances in 2020.
In addition to changes in tone, sizable differences in Christie’s and Cruz’s authenticity emerged. Authenticity is a measure of how personal and honest a person’s language is. People who are more authentic tend to use more I-words (I, me, mine) and relativity-related words like new, during, and near. Authentic people also tend to use fewer she-he (he, her, his) words and discrepancy words like should, could, and must.
Christie has steadily become less authentic, and Cruz, who wasn’t very authentic to begin with, was even less so at this week’s RNC convention. Given the highly contentious primary season, it is perhaps somewhat unsurprising that two former rivals are less than authentic faced with Trump’s nomination. In speaking at a Trump-centered convention, their support for the current direction of the party may be somewhat forced.
In his speech this week, Christie made token compliments to Trump but used his time to make a case against Clinton rather than for Trump. His language indicates that his support for Trump, and perhaps his opposition of Clinton, may be less than completely sincere.
For Cruz, much of the primary season was spent fighting with Donald Trump. While Cruz did not endorse him in his speech, he did congratulate him on his nomination and had to talk to a hostile Trump-supporting crowd. Given his struggles with Trump, Cruz may have found it difficult to be sincere in support of a party that chose Trump over him.
Belief Certainty: Cognitive processing
Cruz and Christie have also changed in their thinking styles since 2012. When someone is working through a problem and building their beliefs, they tend to use words like think, believe, and know. These types of words reflect cognitive processing. People low in cognitive processing are more certain in their beliefs.
Christie’s cognitive processing scores have dropped over time. He has become more certain in his positions and is thinking through them as was apparent at the convention this week.
Cruz has always been someone who is certain in his beliefs. Cruz’s cognitive processing has increased slightly over time, but overall is still low. Stepping onto the national stage may have presented Cruz with more complex issues, but he knows what he believes.
Chris Christie and Ted Cruz have handled the 2016 primary season and their subsequent defeats differently. Christie’s speech is rife with negative emotion indicating a sense of pessimism which may reflect his election defeat and rejection by Trump for the vice presidential slot. His language use also suggests emotional distancing. His convention speech is among the least authentic and most impersonal that he has given. At the same time, the cognitive process measure reveals a lack of introspection that he has shown in the past.
Although Cruz may be unhappy with the choice of Trump as the nominee, his language reveals that he is more optimistic about the future. Indeed, Cruz’s RNC speech was among the most upbeat he has ever given. Among all of the candidates — both Republican and Democratic — in the 2015-2016 debates, Cruz stood out as the least authentic and the lowest in cognitive processing (or, conversely, the highest in belief certainty). Along these dimensions, he remained the outlier. He continues to use language associated with deception mixed with a strong sense of certainty.