By Richard E. Vatz
The major speeches at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night revealed some cardinal strengths and weaknesses of the Republican effort to win the White House.
TED CRUZ: On the weakness side: Ted Cruz’s “La convention: c’est moi” speech. Never have I seen a speech create a pall over a convention as did Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s initially rousing pro-freedom speech, followed by his lack of an endorsement.
In rhetorical speech theory, we have what is called a periodical sentence, a sentence that leads to a surprise. In Cruz’s case, his speech was one periodical sentence leading to the feeling one gets at being sucker-punched.
No one will be moved by the first good 85% of Cruz’s speech promoting Republicans and Republican values in general. Everyone will remember the metaphorical thud at the end. This was rhetorical betrayal; it was the Pearl Harbor sneak attack of speeches; it can only hurt Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Anyone who wonders why no Republican principals trust Ted Cruz, just remember the Cleveland Cruz Debacle.
NEWT GINGRICH: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich gave an excellent, well-modulated address, including a sardonic claim that Cruz was subtly endorsing Donald Trump by praising voting for a person who reveres the Constitution.
The rest of his speech was strong and intelligent, but not overwhelming, but it was an unambiguous rejection of Hillary Clinton and endorsement of Donald Trump.
PAUL RYAN introduced his friend Indiana Gov. Mike Pence with undiluted praise. In contrast to Ted Cruz who had opposed Trump as had Ryan, one could not sense any conflict in the speaker’s support of the ticket. Paul Ryan, in this writer’s opinion, is intellectually, politically, temperamentally, and rhetorically the best the Republican Party has to offer.
MIKE PENCE: Pence’s speech was near perfect (rhetorical critics don’t like to grant perfection): he was, perhaps in contrast to his presidential nominee, politically in the mainstream. He cited President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King as great Americans who influenced his occupational choices considerably.
He praised stock values of conservatives, including religion, hard work and stable marriage (Trump may not have liked that). He attacked Hillary but substantively on the national debt and foreign policy and lack of support for police, while the Tuesday night ugly chant of “Lock her up” was thankfully nowhere to be heard.
Pence cited Hillary’s infamous irresponsible remark in Congressional testimony, “What difference does it make?” in response to being questioned about the sources of the Benghazi attack. Fair game indeed.
He emphasized support for Israel, the importance of likely Supreme Court appointments over the next presidential term and religious values.
And in the finest slogan return of this century, the crowd chanted, “We like Mike,” a play, of course, on “We like Ike” for Dwight David Eisenhower over 60 years ago.
Finally, Pence channeled the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, calling for a “rendezvous with destiny” and referenced Reagan’s great 1964 Republican National Convention speech by claiming this moment as “Another time for choosing.”
The first rule for a Vice Presidential candidate is the Hippocratic rule: “First do no harm;” Ted Cruz had already done enough.
Excellent opening for Mike Pence. Donald Trump has his rhetorical job cut out for him Thursday.
Richard E. Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University and author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion”