By Richard E. Vatz
To say Donald Trump’s speech had to overcome some convention-induced deficits — Melania’s lifting of speech excerpts from Michelle Obama, Ted Cruz’s self-serving non-endorsement of Trump — is simply to cite the ongoing story of his political life.
All rhetoric is about focusing and deflecting attention, but Trump personifies this every day of his life. Focus on his policy reversals? Focus on his attempt to diminish big government? Focus on his trashing of John McCain? Focus on his support of police? Focus on his ill-considered warnings that he may ignore NATO allies in trouble?
You get the idea.
Daughter Ivanka Trump’s introduction was compelling, articulate and very well-delivered with perfect emphasis, perfect pausing and perfect apparent sincerity.
She said she doesn’t vote just on party, but that her father’s election would mean real change. He is a fighter, said she, and this is the spirit of his campaign.
Consistent with his message, she saw a Trump presidency meaning that we could “win” again. The speech depicted a man who is kind and compassionate — a little trite in parts, but no one could doubt that Ivanka meant it. He is all about meritocracy, she said, and he is hostile to discrimination of all types. Ivanka stressed repeatedly his concern for equal pay and equal work. A near-perfect speech, save for being too long, It was also absent of any ugliness — no “lock her (Hillary) up” hints in this speech.
Some false humility
Trump began with a little false humility, saying, “I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.”
He then bragged about the record number of votes he got. OK, Trump cannot stop being Trump. He emphasized that safety and prosperity were critical and pledged that the violence hitting America domestically would be quelled by his presidency. How would he do this? It is unclear.
He railed against political correctness, which got a rousing cheer. If you want to be falsely soothed by lies, he said, go to the Democratic National Convention.
No mention of attacks on innocent African-Americans. That issue deserves a mention, for reasons of honesty and reasons of political persuasion. The speech stressed over and over that he is the “law and order” candidate, but such an emphasis need not be mutually exclusive with protecting the atypical victim of irresponsible police actions.
He attacked illegal immigration and cited individual deaths.
Trump mentioned African-American unemployment, the increasing problems of the trade deficit, and the rise in national debt without commensurate infrastructure improvement.
He focused on the foreign policy passivity and its time-bomb threat. He followed it with President Obama’s red-line bluff in Syria and the general failure of this administration’s pursuing U.S. interests overseas.
He said in one of his most impressive lines, perhaps ad-libbed, “let’s defeat her in November” in a slightly chastising answer to the offensive chants of “lock her up.”
Clinton’s failed policies
In a detailed “review of the record,” Trump lists a litany of foreign policy debacles including Libya, Egypt, Benghazi, Iraq, Iran, Syria and a threatening refugee crisis. This has led to a devastating legacy, says Trump, of death, destruction and weakness.
He says Clinton perpetuates a rigged system of media and politics which Trump promises to stop. She is, he implies, the tool of special interests.
He hits her on her e-mail, stressing the crimes as dangerous and detailing her arrant incompetence and arrogance. He hits her on her support of NAFTA and the TPP and says these trade deals have suffocated the economic development of middle class America. Trump cites Hillary’s uncaring remarks about coal workers and pledges that with him as president, workers’ jobs will be safe.
Trump said he is in politics to defend those who cannot defend themselves. He said he knows the system, implying that he himself has benefited from the “rigged system.”
He cites Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a critical partner, but he was not heard of in the speech after the mention.
All in all it was one of Donald J. Trump’s best speeches, more responsible, more specific and really just more persuasive.
Trump focused on the threat of Islamic radicals, and cites the gay victims in Orlando as evidence of his concern about terrorism as a threat to all Americans. He repeatedly supported religious freedom and claimed it is under major attack. He profusely thanked the evangelicals whose support he needs.
He emphasized the importance of Israel, “our greatest ally.” He likes its strength and resolve and contrasts Hillary as unreliable in protecting us from massive unscreened refugee immigration. He contrasts the deaths of Americans from illegal immigrants with Clinton’s naive support of sanctuary cities.
All in all, it was one of Donald J. Trump’s best speeches, more responsible, more specific and really just more persuasive. The question is whether any speech, however improved and moving, can take all attention away from the periodically outrageous, inconsistent and personal attacking of Donald Trump
But this speech had none of those weaknesses.
Richard Vatz teaches political Rhetoric at Towson University and is author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion”