Commentary: The Art of the Acceptance Speech

Jul 26, 2016

I am not a convention junkie.  Mostly I read the day after about what went on.  But I do watch two events live: the presidential nominee acceptance speeches.

At the conclusion of each speech I turn off the TV and write down my impressions.  I am not interested in what the talking heads have to say.  Sometimes the next morning when I catch the analyses I wonder aloud: “Did those people watch the same speech I did?”

Also I try to watch it as though I were an undecided voter just now getting interested in the campaigns, trying to answer the question: So who is this Donald Trump guy I’ve heard about and why should I vote for him?

The comments I wrote about Trump’s speech were brief:

·         “Nothing new”

·         “Few specifics”

·         “Kept his voice and energy admirably”

He kept his promise to make law and order the centerpiece.  I was surprised that he spent rather more time attacking Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton, though his criticisms of her were certainly sharp.  He went on and on about violent crime committed by illegal immigrants.  He was full of bluster and hyperbole – again, nothing new.

His most curious specific proposal was a sop to evangelicals, whose love for them he proclaimed.  He wants to allow churches to do political advocacy without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.  I thought: “Black churches also will love this, and they turn out Democrats.”

I must confess I switched a few times between the speech and the Cardinals game.  Their come-from-behind win over San Diego was a lot more exciting than the speech.

While Trump did not expand his voter pool much, he did fire up the loyalists.  Had I been a casual undecided voter I would have been impressed with his command presence.  Also I might have wondered if single-handedly he really could bring all those blue collar jobs back and if single-handedly he really could reduce the crime rate.  Sounds great, if he can deliver.

This week Hillary Clinton must present an alternative vision for American while building voter confidence that she is “authentic” and “presidential.”  She has her work cut out for her and I’ll be watching with interest.

Dr. Terry Smith is a political science professor at Columbia College, and a regular commentator for KBIA’s Talking Politics