There was the following passage in the New York Times’ (January 16) article that came under the headline, “Donald Trump’s Existential Pickle.”

The ranks of talk show hosts, journalists, pundits and political consultants are especially robust with losers, including Ana Navarro, Bill Maher, Howard Stern and Karl Rove, who’s not just a “loser” but “dopey” and a “total fool,” as Trump tweeted. -- And his go-to arguments for why someone is a loser, a dope or a dummy is that he or she has made erroneous predictions or been repudiated by the ratings, the marketplace, the audience. A television personality is a loser if not all that many viewers tune in. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/opinion/sunday/donald-trumps-existential-pickle.html?action=click&pgtype=

I took his "go-to arguments” as vitriolic or aggressive argument to disparage other candidates at first, but when I checked both Cambridge and Merriam-Webster English Dictionary, my interpretation didn’t fit to any of the following definitions – trustworthy or helpful person / sources /service - they gave:

Cambridge Online Dictionary: Used to describe the best person to deal with a particular problem or do a particular thing or the best place to get a particular thing or service.


He was the company's go-to guy for new ideas.

He is the go-to politician for all federal matters in the state.For 20 years,

Wild Mountain was the go-to store for outdoor enthusiasts.

Merriam-Webster English Dictionary: Always helpful: producing desired results or information when needed.

Is "go to argument" to sell himself as a go-to guy to whom all Americans entrust their country as their leader? What does “go-to argument” mean? Do any other politicians have the "go-to argument" pattern as Mr. Trump has?

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    There is an analogy to the "go-to guy for new ideas", etc -- the arguments he falls back on when these issues come up. (As to why they produce "desired results", I suspect that has more to do with his bluster than with anything about the arguments themselves -- he's just comfortable with them and knows they've worked in the past.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 2:58
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    A 'go-to' X is something you usually 'go to' in order to do X in the easiest, quickest way possible, something you always fall back on. A go-to argument is just an argument that you rely on usually when the issue comes up.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 4:49
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    His default argument, so to speak. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 10:17
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    In answer to your last update, pretty much all politicians who've been in the business very long have "go-to arguments" to some degree, since they often get asked the same questions again and again. Trump has excelled in the art, though, and is especially good at using a very small number of ideas/arguments to rebuff a vast range of questions.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 2:47

4 Answers 4


According to Wiktionary (I think it has the best definition), the adjective go-to means:

  1. Desired; desirable; of choice: 'Cheesecake is my go-to food whenever I feel down.'

  2. Reliable; likely to perform in difficult circumstances: 'Smith is your go-to person if you want lasting results'.

Your example sentence could be rephrased to:

... his typical arguments on which he always relies or that we could always expect him to make whenever he find someone (talk show hosts, journalist, pundits and political consultants) to attack for why someone is a loser, a dope or a dummy is that he or she has made erroneous predictions...

Those arguments are typical of Donald Trump and he uses them so frequently that they are arguments of choice or preferred above others by Donald Trump.


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    +1 as this is the right answer, but it's worth pointing out that there is a subtle implication by the author that Donald Trump is boring, unoriginal and cannot think out of the box, as shown by the fact that he uses the same arguments over and over again Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 11:33
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    @steveverrill: I always argue that we all do. Oh. Doh! ;-) Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 12:33
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    No, Donald Trump is entertaining because he is "unoriginal and cannot think out of the box, as shown by the fact that he uses the same arguments over and over again." Repetition is the key to comedy.
    – Spacemoose
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 11:45

I'll use your dictionary definition as the reference.

"Go-to argument" means the argument someone 'goes to' automatically, akin to a knee jerk reaction, although not necessarily with the emotional overtones.

When someone responds with the same argument each time a given scenario is posed, that argument is known as his or her go-to argument.

  • Thanks for your input. I understand a knee jerk reaction, but am not clear with your last line. Could you elaborate a bit more about the last line. Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 3:09
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    @YoichiOishi With reference to the quote you used: the author says Trump denigrated various people, and the argument he 'goes to' each time is that either their predictions were wrong, or they weren't popular with their 'audience'. Contrast that with the earlier paragraph in your linked document about how the author considers Trump's self-valuation: "He’s inverted the usual political logic. Typically, candidates cite their qualifications as the reason that voters should affirm them. Trump asserts that he’s qualified because voters have affirmed him, or at least because they seem poised to."
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 3:27
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    Default argument would also mean the same here as go-to argument.
    – user152004
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 3:31
  • Gosh, @Lawrence, that's what Berlusconi said for years, and look at the number of people who believed that!
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 18:40

In this context, the closest equivalent for go-to will be "default" or maybe "standard". You might also use "fallback". The choice that is the most reliable, or that involves the least amount of thinking, or risk. Sometimes it also means the "lazy" option.

Maybe you're familiar with the phrase "No one ever got fired for buying IBM". In that case, IBM was the go-to option.

"Go to" doesn't by itself have a positive or negative meaning. It can be used with a positive, neutral, or negative meaning, depending on the context. In the Trump example of the question it was used with a negative meaning, while the Cambridge examples are all positive.

  • I doubt that anyone younger than 50 is familiar with that phrase.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 4:10
  • I'm 46, and I'm familiar with it. I'd say under 30.
    – Spacemoose
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 11:46
  • @HotLicks To this day it's still in frequent use in IT and business blogs, used to describe a situation where people use a suboptimal solution because of lower personal risk.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 13:02
  • I worked for IBM for 35 years, and I only heard it the first few years I was there. But I suppose it may have been used ironically after about 1990.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 13:10

Usually, "go-to" (noun) suggests the standard option (on the individual level) in that context. Note that there is no implication that the user of "go-to" believes that it is the best or most trustworthy option, rather it is their automatic response when no other option takes priority. For instance, when I want food delivered to me, my go-to meal delivery service is Pizza Hut, despite the fact that I no longer enjoy their pizza. It's what I've done for years and is now the default meal delivery service I will order, unless I have something better in mind.

In this case, I interpret the situation as the authors discussing Trump's default argument (the one he uses when he doesn't have something better prepared) or his go-to argument.

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