There are politicians who built their entire careers around speeches. Barack Obama might be a good example for that. Then, there are mediocre speakers who sometimes deliver great speeches. I would argue, for example, that George H. W. Bush gave one hell of a great speech at his party convention back in 1988. It was decisive in turning the race around. The same is true for the late German chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1994. Joe Biden’s speech last week was not a game changer, but he didn’t need a game changer to begin with. He tried to inject some emotion and life into his performance, which was not an easy task in view of the format. With respect to the content, his speech was clearly addressed to centrist swing voters, which was probably the right thing to do.
In the past, parties have usually gotten a boost in the surveys after their conventions. Since this year, one convention follows the other one just a week later, we will not know for some time where the race really stands. In that sense, don’t look at the surveys for the next two weeks. The polls will only have absorbed both convention effects after some time.
Unlike Biden, Trump does need to change the dynamics of the race next week. Until now, it seems to me that Trump was basically rerunning the 2016 campaign. The strategy: Appeal to the base and double down. But campaigns as an incumbent are different. He enjoys a 90% approval rating among Republicans (I know, it’s hard to believe), so he doesn’t need to convince them to support him. He does, however, need to convince them that he can win. Second, he has to – finally – define Biden. I wrote about this in a different post several weeks ago. And third, he has to reach out to independents, people who think that the country goes into the wrong direction and who are skeptical about his performance. In short, he needs a message why he should be reelected. It’s a lot to accomplish within a week. Is it possible? Yes, but I am not sure he is willing to do it. I have worked for politicians of his age (and who had won elections in the past). It’s sometimes hard to get them to do new things.