Democratic digital campaign strategies in the age of Trump : circulation theory, digital networks, and memes.


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This thesis examines the varied digital campaign strategies of prominent, establishment Democratic politicians during the Trump administration. In order to counter the massive online presence of Donald Trump, establishment Democratic politicians accelerated the use of digital memes in campaign discourse. I use a circulation framework to analyze and chart the movement of specific meme formats and meme iterations across and between digital networks. I analyze three case studies of digital campaign discourse; the widely-circulated hashtag #TheResistance, Mike Bloomberg’s self-satirical Instagram meme campaign, and Pete Buttigieg’s “victory” speech on the night of the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucuses. Taken together, these case studies illustrate distinct ways prominent Democratic campaigns use memes to leverage rhetorical power while concealing the liberal ideological valences of such texts. I argue critical rhetoricians should more fully account for the corporate and centralized origins of seemingly diffuse digital meme trends.



Digital rhetoric. Digital networks. Memes. Political communication. Campaign rhetoric.