Roll calls, house bands, awkward dancing, comedy hats and protests aside, the political conventions that have dominated the news agenda over the past fortnight essentially boil down to one long succession of speeches.
An opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to galvanize support and attract voters in the build-up to the crucial November vote, they rely on a host of speakers to get vital messages across and really define the party line.
Some give stirring speeches that leave few dry eyes in the house. Others have delegates in stitches with one-liners or impressions. And some just fall flat.
The public offers its opinion on each speaker in real time across social media, but what do the pros think?
Matt Latimer (@matt_latimer), deputy director of speechwriting to President George W. Bush and chief speechwriter to Donald Rumsfeld, and Barton Swaim, who wrote the book on speechwriting (literally), intently watched what unfolded in Cleveland and Philadelphia (where Hillary Clinton speaks Thursday night) and shared their thoughts with Mashable.
Latimer discussed some of the key speeches with us, and scored them out of ten. Shall we begin with the most controversial so far?
Melania Trump’s words, which were relatively well-received as they were delivered, were tainted almost immediately by undeniable accusations of plagiarism that went on to dominate the first three days of the Republican convention. Latimer, though, thought she did a decent job.
“There was something about her that made me want to like her.”
“I give Mrs. Trump a good deal of slack, because she is not a political veteran and does not speak the language [as a native] or seem to have much interest, for that matter, in the campaign world,” he said. “There was something about her that made me want to like her and maybe that was it.
“The entire speech was, of course, overshadowed by the plagiarism charge.This isn’t unprecedented, but it is uncommon. And I think it came about because of a chaotic, amateurish process that didn’t have a process for vetting speeches.This would almost certainly never have happened with a more traditional presidential campaign operation.
“The speech’s major failing is that it did not convey any personal side of Trump, except for the fact that he married an attractive, successful immigrant to America and has stayed with her for nearly 20 years,which in itself is not nothing.”
Score: 6/10 (would have been 7/10 if not for the plagiarism)
Remember the stand-out moments from Pence’s speech? Neither do we. Latimer says that’s the point.
“His speech didn’t set the world on fire, but that’s a good thing.”
“Donald Trump needed a vice president who didn’t scare everyone,” Latimer said.”And Mike Pence came across just fine on that score a kind and decent family man, a nice guy, hard right on a few social issues, but not that different from a typical conservative,” he insisted.
“His speech was delivered with sincerity and humor.
“It didn’t set the world on fire, but that’s a good thing since many voters wonder if the top of the ticket plans to do just that should he win the White House.
“This was the kind of speech Trump needed to reassure the base and calm jittery voters down.
“It wasn’t particularly memorable, but we’re talking about vice presidents here anyway. Nobody is supposed to pay much attention to them.”
“The speech no other candidate would have given, which is fitting for a campaign no other candidate would have run,” Latimer said of Trump’s historically long time on stage. “It lacked much, if any, humor and made no real effort to add a new dimension to the Trump persona,” he added.
“Many critics quickly denounced it as a ‘gloom and doom’ speech, but it’s not at all clear that these pundits have a better sense of the country’s mood than Trump does. (He’s proven them wrong on that score countless times so far.)
“In demeanor, style, message, delivery, Trump personified CHANGE, but in a totally different way to Obama’s change message of 2008. The two men couldn’t have more different speaking styles if they came from different planets.
“Trump’s only hope for winning is if a majority of the country wants a sharp departure from the Obama years, and radical change.If they do, his speech played right into that.”
Barton Swaim, the author of The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics and a wordsmith for Rep. Mark Sanford during his time as governor of South Carolina, also gave Mashable his thoughts on Trump’s speech.
“Why did he yell so much?”
“It began well, but the weird cadence grated after the first ten minutes,” he said. “A few words, awkward stop. A few words, awkward stop. And why did he yell so much? It was as if he was trying to win over the angriest Republicans, but they’re already his strongest supporters.”
“The length was awful. You sympathize for American politicians to a degree they can’t get through a few phrases without another round of applause and it cuts into the time by a lot. Still, no political speech should go beyond 20 minutes. By the end you were just exhausted.”
“Trump has this magical ability a comedian’s talent, really to phrase much of what he says as if it were a punchline. He always puts the most important word at the end, like a well delivered punchline. He doesn’t say the important thing and then leave you with a long dependent clause. Almost every sentence ends with a pop. Nearly all of his tweets work like that; a lot of them will conclude with ‘Sad!’ or ‘America 1st!’ or ‘Overrated!'”
“Too much screaming, weird cadence, but a memorable speech and, for Trump, it was as on-message as anything could be.
The First Lady’s words were warmly praised by onlookers. John Podhoretz, the former speechwriter for both Reagan and George H.W. Bush, gave a standing ovation on Twitter.
Whoever wrote this speech, I salute you. This is how you frame an attack with a scalpel.
John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 26, 2016
As a former speechwriter, all I can do is listen to this and sayWHO WROTE THIS? YOU’RE MAKING US PROUD.
John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 26, 2016
Latimer, who is also a partner at Javelin, a literary and communications firm in Alexandria, VA, sang the First Lady’s praises.
“Charming, poised, tough, she brought her A-game to the speech and left more than one pundit wondering when she was going to announce her own campaign for something,” he said.
“There were many elements to this speech that could help Hillary Clinton as she puts a final polish on her own. The First Lady didn’t attack Trump directly.She didn’t need to her references were pointed, effective, and obvious.Even Trump seemed to know to steer clear of her: he departed from his customary tweet taunts during her speech and kept a wise silence.
“She had a number of good soundbites ‘when they go low, we go high,’ ‘I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,’ ‘Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life’ (like her marriage, wink) which are often key to making a speech moving and memorable.”
It was a huge contrast to Bill Clinton’s, Latimer said.
“It’s pretty hard to dispute that if she were running this year, the election would be over.”
The former president and potential First Gentleman spoke Tuesday during what many lambasted as a rambling and tedious affair. Latimer said it was not one of his best.
“This was the wedding toast that never ends.”
“This was the wedding toast that never ends,” he said. “The former president was like an aging father of the bride, who everyone kind of wants to like and nods and smiles at politely while he relives highlights of his life and sort of makes a point by accident.
“When I watched it, I was reminded of the famous ramble by Grandpa Simpson that includes the line: ‘I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time.'”
“Bill Clinton was never a ‘soundbite’ kind of speaker. His most famous lines have been unintentional, and largely disastrous: ‘It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is;’ ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman;’ and that time he said he wanted to date a mummy.
“Calling his wife a change-maker’ was awkward. Is she good at giving you four quarters for a dollar? And the long, probably false story of their meeting and courtship probably raised uncomfortable memories of other women he’s courted.
“Many in the media tried to give him a pass, but I won’t.Clinton can give fantastic speeches this wasn’t one of them.”
Hillary Clinton takes to the stage for her own speech Thursday night. She’ll have some tough and memorable acts to follow.
Read more: http://mashable.com/