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Republicans often use neuro linguistic programming (NLP) in their political messaging. That is, Republicans use and repeat loaded words or short phrases connected with names, issues, programs, bills, laws etc. in order to make voters feel a certain way. Thus, you can find many examples of Republicans praising other Republicans as “strong leaders” who take “decisive action.” On the flip side, Republicans use negative-sounding (and often flat-out false) terms like “liberal media” and “death panels” to achieve a negative effect. Republicans frequently use words such as "Muslim," "Kenyan" and "socialist" for this reason after uttering President Obama's name. A list of many of these loaded Republican phrases is contained here. Through repetition, these Republican terms often sink into our brains and affect the way we feel.

But now Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has become the victim of NLP-type phraseology traditionally used by Republicans against Democrats. Because of the “Bridgegate” scandal, which feeds into an existing narrative about Chris Christie, the word that is being attached to so many mentions of Christie’s name is “bully.” This attachment of the negative term “bully” to Chris Christie is so complete that it’s being used not just by people and media outlets who might have an opposing political viewpoint to Christie’s, but also by  Republicans and conservatives like S.E. Cupp and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that, at Christie’s press conference addressing “Bridgegate” last Thursday (see video at top of this post), the second question from reporters was:

Your critics say this reveals that you are a political bully, that your style is payback. Are you?
In response, Christie had to say, “I am not a bully” in true Richard Nixon “I am not a crook” fashion. Of course, Christie’s denial that he is a bully led to a new round of headlines along the lines of “Christie Denies He’s a Bully,” which only further reinforce the very NLP word association of “Chris Christie” and “bully” that Christie and his fellow Republicans presumably would want to avoid.

While the current Bridgegate story might fade from the headlines, it likely will be much harder for voters to erase the conflation of “Chris Christie” and “bully” (and the resulting negative feelings about Christie) from their minds.

[Originally published at Messaging Matters]

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