Issues & Insights

Trump’s Soaring and Stinging Substance – Sadly Subdued

President Trump says there is a real choice this election. He's right. Source: Wikimedia Commons

After Donald Trump’s acceptance speech before the majestic White House, followed by flaming fireworks around the Washington Monument, the attendees were treated to … opera?

Huh? Whatever happened to Fleetwood Mac?

Christopher Macchio’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” was just the wrongest of many wrong notes on what should have been a triumphant evening for the incumbent.

Let’s illuminate the parties’ twin failures at the quadrennial’s biggest happenings by posing two simple questions.

Question one: what is a convention acceptance speech supposed to be more like than any other political event?

Answer: a campaign rally!

Question two: who in American politics is the rally-master?

Need one really ask?

We get how the Democrats managed to mis-stage somnolent Joe Biden’s big moment – there’s so little to work with. But how could the president and his team so thoroughly mess up his?

Especially given amazing opening acts including compelling personal stories from people of all colors and political persuasions. (Alice Johnson, whose outrageous sentence Trump commuted as a prelude to prison reform, was alone worth the price of admission.)

The fantastic setting.

And one spectacular advantage for Trump over his rival: a crowd willing, waiting and wanting to whoop it up.

In such a circumstance, no one’s more capable than The Donald of tossing the faithful raw, red meat.

Shockingly, the president and his team served up boeuf bourguignon: an acceptance that was way too long and lofty, went way too late (past EDT primetime, breaking a cardinal rule of politics) and featured way, way too little of the Real Trump.

Daughter Ivanka didn’t do dad any favors with an overdone, pancake-flat warmup that – chip-off-the-old-block – seemed more about her than him. When she finally gave way to him, there was the awkward, extended stroll down by the president and first lady – and painfully long, stiff wait for “God Bless the USA” to be over.

After that, the real problems started. The nominee was prepared a speech laden with uplifting phraseology and stinging substance. Great: if we’re talking Reagan, Clinton or Obama.

But we’re not. This president is at his best when he playfully employs his written text almost as a foil – not a shackle. As a reality TV performer used to winging it, Trump’s most effective when he shares part of his text, and then comments on it (especially when he actually takes issue with it).

Reading straight up? To say, when he goes that route, that POTUS sounds like he’s reciting from the phone book is a pointed reminder of why there are no more phone books.

Which is a shame, because there was much to appreciate about the written speech. Starting with its optimistic opening, including delicious and pointed political anti-correctness invoking prior leaders who have become, for one reason or another, pariahs: from warriors TR, Grant and Jackson to slave-owner Jefferson to Japanese imprisoner FDR to racist Churchill.

Along with its clear presentation of first-term accomplishments – punctuated by one of the night’s few effectively delivered lines about “breaking the cardinal rule of Washington politics: I kept my promises.”

There was the sharp contrast with the opposition and brutally effective takedown of their standard-bearer for self-promotion at the expense of everyday Americans – and siding with “anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag-burners” over law and order. Money line: “Biden’s record is a shameful roll call of the most catastrophic betrayals and blunders in our lifetime,” including votes or stances on trade agreements, immigration, terrorism, and especially China.

Along with a convincing parry of Biden’s efforts to blame Trump for the COVID crisis. And oh, yeah: as this commentator predicted, a mocking of the veepster’s “claim to be an ‘ally of the light’ when his own party can’t even keep the lights on.”

But where the text converged with Trump in disappointing was the failure to punchily demarcate the bombshell second-term agenda introduced to open the convo.

It’s not only a tremendous encore, it’s chockfull of simple, evocative Trump-ish terminology: “Create 10 Million Jobs and 1 Million Small Businesses.” “Eradicate COVID.” “Return to Normal in 2021.” “Bring Back 1 Million Manufacturing Jobs from China.” “Hold China Fully Accountable for Allowing the Virus to Spread Around the World.” “Drain the Swamp.” “Defend Our Police.” “End Illegal Immigration and Protect American Workers.” “Build the World’s Greatest Infrastructure System.”

Whoomp! There it is!

Yes, the sentiments were all in the speech. But almost as an afterthought, an interstice — not a centerpiece. And in sleepy, State of the Union-like laundry lists, not taut, bold pronouncements. (It’s no coincidence that the speech was also unduly lengthened by SOTU-style shoutouts to special guests.)

Finally, the close: when the president partly lumbered, partly slumbered through his soliloquy, were you convinced that “Together, we are unbeatable.” Or did you feel beaten down by the length and lack of energy?

In the end – and at the end – Trump’s speech was no rallying of troops, but rather a party-poop of powerful pledges punily presented, a snoozefest of smart smackdowns and sunny assertions, sadly subdued. Mayhap the messaging can be delivered over the coming months with more sharp, clarion tones – and fewer wrong notes.

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

16 comments

  • Amen, Bob. Less pomp and pageantry, please. More punch. More panache. Leave them cheering and asking for more …. and if there IS an outcry for an encore, don’t hold up the fireworks for more than a minute or two.

    A hallmark of effective speech-making is to cut right to the chase, as you would know, without losing any of the key points in the edit process. My father, a journalist, loved editing as much as writing. He’d sometimes say, “If I’d had more time it would be shorter.”

  • Someone here never learned opera, let alone Italian, or he would realize Turandot is the exact metaphor, “do or die.” Turandot is America, Calaf is Trump. The executioner is, well, the executioner.

    • However, although you may not be aware, plenty of Americans are not familiar with Nessum Dorma. Yeah, the great unwashed didn’t get it. You can do better.

  • Sorry the author was disappointed, but we thought Trump was deliberately on point. He did not degrade the White House lawn with a raucous rally. That wasn’t the place. He is most often criticized for his pugilistic rally antics, but that was not the goal. He was speaking to the nation, not just entertaining his already energized base.

    As the author notes, everything he wanted topically was in the speech, and most of America will read it, not have watched it. For sober, thinking citizens his tone was spot on. By NOT going full partisan red meat, he allowed those moderates and undecideds to actually hear him, and not just see the entertainer. The speech was longer than normal, but I didn’t note any sections that deserved to be eliminated. He made his case for reelection with great gravitas, something his denigrators say he lacks.

    The fireworks spectacular was just that, and Macchio’s glorious operatic performance of both the divine and secular was a perfect capstone for a monumental evening. Inspiring and uplifting, as is Trump’s promise for a second term.

    The author, underestimating Trump, wanted a carnival act. Instead, he got the statesman who has always been behind that façade. His shock is obvious, as undoubtedly was his prior low estimation of the great man who is our leader.

  • It is disappointing to read a list of criticisms rather than a celebration of what was done so very well. Dems love to pick apart any and everything . Let’s not follow that example. In any person event or circumstance we seldom find perfection. Yet to seek out flaws and magnify is not a usual quality of the GOP members.

  • Apparently Bob watched a different Convention last night. The entire night was an “opera”….perfectly put together as if Mozart himself composed it. Ivanka with her introduction was the epitome of grace, beauty and intelligence.

    Trump`s speech was rather long, I will give you that. But it was not supposed to be a bombastic Trump rally speech. People are tuning in because these are very serious times and a lot is at stake. People that have heard through fake news media what a terrible person Trump is saw a very different side last night. Last night was the “big tent” GOP in all it`s glory.

    What bombed was this article…..you totally missed the point of the Convention.

  • Regardless of what the Bush toady author curmudgeonly stated, President Trump gave a masterful. presidential speech. I am sorry it did not go far enough left to satisfy his tastes, but I believe that seeing the forum where it was given, it was perfect. So, Mr. Maistros, go back to your Romney, Flake, Bush hypocrite club and tell them that you could not sell your bucket of puke.

    • Romney-Flake. Ha. It might interest you to know that I left the Republican Party in 2013 after many decades because I was sick of the Establishment thwarting conservatives like Ted Cruz (then battling Obamacare) and Ken Cuccinelli (deep-sixed by his own party in the VA governor’s race).

      • I’m actually glad to know that, as I was unaware previously!

        So, why are you denigrating Trump’s speech, because it wasn’t aimed for the plebian class, but for ALL Americans?

        Does this not disparage YOU in the doing? I’d say so!

  • Someone has decided that Trump needs to show their idea of ‘classy’ and ‘conservative.’

    If this is another of Ivanka’s “Dad, the liberals will just love you if … you play opera instead of Meatloaf,” she’s either just terminally stupid, or a breathtakingly genius dyed-in-the-wool liberal.

    My vote is on stupid. Trump’s Achilles heel.

  • I am always happy to click on articles that appear to be pro Republican – there are just so few of them!

    What a disappointment Bob’s article was! His efforts to magnify any misstep by the RNC goes far astray from objective reporting. For example, though I am a get it done now kind of person, I thought the President and First Lady’s walk to the podium was beautiful. And Bob clearly had his critical hat on from the outset to have missed just how glorious it was to bask in the song and appreciate hearing, which we rarely do these days, “God bless the USA!” Their extending that song a couple of seconds beyond what was necessary highlights the theme of President Trump’s campaign. Too bad Bob was not able to see that.

    With Republicans like Bob, who needs Democrats?

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