In his first big address of the 2016 cycle in Detroit last month, Jeb Bush used a teleprompter. He wanted to get it over with, it seemed, resulting in a notably rushed and flat delivery.
A few weeks later, in a major foreign policy address in Chicago, he'd switched to notes on his lectern. Rushing through what should have been conservative red meat and surefire applause lines, he tripped over his words, mispronouncing key terms and making factual errors.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, the former Florida governor and presidential contender chose not to give a speech at all; he instead endured a casual question-and-answer session with Fox News host Sean Hannity. It made sense for Bush, whose comfort with unscripted remarks has stood in sharp contrast to his uninspired—even cringe-worthy—addresses over the past month; in both Detroit and Chicago, Bush seemed much more at ease during the Q&A session. Given the opportunity to forgo a traditional scripted talk, his campaign likely jumped at it: Delivering speeches is clearly not his forte, and Bush seems like a different person in off-the-cuff, more relaxed conversations.
For years, like gatherings in greasy diners, speaking from the stump or behind a lectern has been a central part of the campaign trail. Speeches persuade donors and supporters, allow a campaign to craft a candidate's narrative, and drive press attention. When delivered well, they have a startling power to inspire—and no candidate can escape them entirely. But amid a changing media environment and the increasing popularity of town hall-style forums, lacking that Obamaesque skill isn't fatal to a presidential campaign.