What may be 2015's top political jargon phrase

Yes, some insults have generated instant buzz, but the use of another phrase has continued unabated – by countless politicians as well as the journalistic hordes covering them.

Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.) of Vermont waves at a campaign rally in North Las Vegas, Dec. 28, 2015.

“Tap/tapping into”: to access a previously unknown or overlooked source of something; in politics, usually fear/anger/frustration.

This deserves serious consideration as 2015’s top political jargon phrase. Sure, some insults generated more instant buzz, but The Huffington Post observed in August that “tapping into” was “the most overused cliché in campaign coverage,” and its usage has continued unabated since then – by countless people in both parties as well as the journalistic hordes covering them.

Donald Trump, of course, is routinely described as tapping into the public’s anger (or “the sinister sentiments of the country,” as Republican commentator Nicolle Wallace said recently on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”). It’s mentioned so often that on Sunday he saw fit to deny it – albeit halfheartedly.

“I’m not tapping into the anger, and some people have said I’m doing that, and certainly I’m not doing it intentionally,” Mr. Trump told ABC News. “I just know it can be turned around. It can be turned around quickly.”

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders also has been frequently mentioned as having tapped into anger and frustration (and his campaign, allegedly, as having tapped rival Hillary Clinton’s voter data). But the fact remains that all the candidates have been described as doing some tapping – into the Hispanic vote, into other earlier candidates’ networks of support, even into the Christmas spirit.

What explains the phrase’s popularity? For starters, “tap” is a short, direct word that fits into any headline. There’s also the unspoken promise that “tapping into” can yield something valuable as well as secret. Its use certainly was prevalent two years ago when Edward Snowden made his explosive revelations about the previously unknown extent of the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance programs.

No matter the reason, expect campaigns and pundits to – borrowing a line from a classic cult comedy – continue trying to tap into America.

Chuck McCutcheon writes his "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

Interested in decoding what candidates are saying? Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark’s latest book, “Doubletalk: The Language, Code, and Jargon of a Presidential Election,” will be released on Jan. 19 and is now available for pre-order.

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