The Stakes Before Trump's Big Speech

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Two of the people whose memorable convention speeches are discussed in the item below. A third speech that is likely to be memorable in one way or another will happen this week in Cleveland. (Sage Ross / Own work. [GFDL via Wikimedia Commons)

A reader argues that Donald Trump, who has free-wheeled his way through his last few major “speeches” (as examined in Time Capsule installments #34, #40, and #43) has a surprisingly tricky road ahead:

I really wish former speechwriters on television would talk about what it is like to write, draft, and edit speeches with a candidate or with a President in more workplace detail. It is my belief that Trump is in a no-win situation for Thursday.

  • If he goes improv and not with a crafted teleprompter speech he loses.
  • Teleprompter with “soaring” language sounding not as his own, he loses.
  • If he tries to do teleprompter and several off-the-cuffs in rotation, he loses.
  • If he goes full on law and order, he loses.
  • If he tries to reach out to women, Latinos, gays, African Americans, and Muslims in one-sentence or one-paragraph only, he loses.
  • He faces an audience of millions of independents and undecideds who are looking for a future-oriented and not a fear-based reason to vote for him.

But he feeds off of crowds reactions too often.

I believe he is going to speak to the crowd in the hall, and go greater than 50% raw meat on Thursday. Dozens if not hundreds of political science papers comparing Thursday to Pat Buchanan’s 1992 speech will be written this fall semester it seems….

Lastly, I think Trump is really really worried about changing his $50 million in campaign loans to gifts. He has to file this, in official writing this week on the Wednesday the 20th, for FEC requirements. I think that is the document that Sheldon is waiting for.

I have seen, in person, a number of very dramatic convention speeches. Barack Obama’s address to the Democrats in Boston 12 years ago, when John Kerry was the nominee and Obama a mere state senator, was notable in real time (and not just in retrospect) as the debut of someone who would be a national figure to reckon with. Teddy Kennedy’s impassioned and ferocious “the dream shall never die!” speech to the Democrats in New York in 1980, in which he theoretically conceded to Jimmy Carter but in reality underscored his disdain for his own party’s incumbent president, was notable in real time as a sign of a party in the midst of a serious cleavage.

And Donald Trump, to the Republicans in Cleveland in 2016???