Trump Moment of Truth Comes With Speech That Can Alter Race
published Jul 21st 2016, 3:44 pm, by John McCormick
Even for a master showman like Donald Trump, Thursday night’s prime-time presidential nomination acceptance speech is a big test.
After three days of stumbles at his national convention — capped by a divisive speech by Trump’s top primary campaign rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — the stakes have only grown higher.
Cruz was greeted with a standing ovation when he took the stage Wednesday night at the Quicken Loans Arena, and left amid deafening boos after he failed to endorse the Republican presidential nominee. His speech and the ensuing spectacle upstaged the acceptance speech of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee.
It was the latest distraction during a four-day Republican National Convention that’s been defined by disorderly floor activity, divisions within the party, a plagiarized speech delivered by the nominee’s wife and scattered protests in the streets of Cleveland.
Trump’s address, a seminal moment for the nominee and the Republican Party that he now leads, could act to counter some of the negative narrative from the convention. At the very least, he has a chance to grab the spotlight back from his former rival and begin appearing more presidential.
“He needs to do one thing and one thing only in Cleveland, and that’s make a really good acceptance speech and a persuasive acceptance speech,” said Charlie Black, a longtime Republican strategist who has worked on multiple conventions and supported Ohio Governor John Kasich in primary campaign. “That’s all that matters.”
Sticking to Script
Reading off a teleprompter, however, doesn’t play to Trump’s strengths, which could leave the nominee thinking about improvising. But speaking off the cuff comes with its own risks, particularly with Trump trying to show a general-election audience he can be trusted with the presidency.
“Instead of trying to rile up the thousands of delegates in the convention hall, Trump needs to give a speech that appeals to the millions of viewers across the county,” said Ryan Williams, a strategist with Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “Unfortunately, I have little faith that he has the desire and capacity to accomplish this goal.”
Trump will be introduced by his daughter, Ivanka, who will be charged with humanizing her father and trying to appeal to women voters who may still be having second thoughts about presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“She’ll give great perspective on family,” Trump’s son, Eric said in an interview with Bloomberg Politics on Thursday. “She’ll be very, very personal.”
The Trump campaign is hoping the speeches will be enough to distract from the Cruz saga.
Jeff Roe, Cruz’s presidential campaign manager, said Thursday in Cleveland that the senator’s convention speech was “a rare occurrence of a politician actually saying what they believe.”
Speaking on a Politico-sponsored panel on the future of the Republican Party, Roe said that for Cruz, “it was never part of the consideration to endorse.”
On a telephone call with Cruz’s daughters after the speech, Roe said the girls asked their father why he got booed. His response, according to Roe, was that “it’s hard to do the right thing.”
Katie Packer, a Republican strategist who founded Our Principles PAC in a failed attempt to stop the Trump nomination, said on the same panel that she doesn’t think Trump will get a bump in the polls following the convention because the event hasn’t done enough to reach out to independent voters and “soft Republicans.”
As recently as Tuesday, there were still lingering questions about whether delegates opposed to Trump’s nomination could find some way to slow his selection. Even with the nomination secured, the possibility still exists that dozens or perhaps even hundreds of delegates could leave the floor during his speech, a potential embarrassment on national television.
Cruz played into the discontent again Thursday, telling Texas delegates that he wasn’t going to “come like a servile puppy dog” and endorse a man who had insulted his wife and father.
Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, was asked on CNN Thursday whether he agreed with New York Republican Representative Peter’s King’s characterization of Cruz as a “blank-hole.”
“I’d probably use the same verbiage,” Spicer replied. “I think that it is disappointing with somebody who is a leader in the conservative movement, who knows what’s at stake — I mean, Ted Cruz more than anybody in term of his background knows what’s at stake, and chose to come here. He could have just said, ’I’m not coming, I don’t feel comfortable.’”
Trump, however, tried to downplay the notion of division in the party. “Other than a small group of people who have suffered massive and embarrassing losses, the party is VERY united,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday. “Great love in the arena!”
The real-estate developer, former reality television star, and political novice, is expected to deliver his speech about after 10 p.m. New York time, with media experts forecasting a record television audience.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, told reporters in Cleveland Thursday that his candidate’s message is reaching undecided voters, even amid some distractions.
“People are hearing the message,” he said. “I think you will see next week that the polls will show that the convention was successful.”
Trump’s speech, Manafort said, would focus on his “vision” for the country, as well as “the crisis facing the cities and the terrorism that’s facing the world.”
“He’ll talk about his plan for the campaign, as far as he plans on presenting himself,” he said.
On the campaign trail, Trump has presented a dark image of America, playing to the fears of voters at a time of national and international unrest.
A Bloomberg Politics national poll last month showed that more than two-thirds of likely voters say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Other speakers scheduled for the final night of the convention include technology investor Peter Thiel and Tom Barrack, a private equity manager and real-estate investor close to Trump.