That’s it: Donald Trump is now officially the Republican nominee for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. On Thursday night, he delivered his acceptance speech. Some people wonder why the media around the world makes such a big deal out of a speech. Well, in an American presidential election, the acceptance speech is an important rendez-vous between the candidate, the media and the voters. A candidate has considerable attention and can use it to his benefit. I remember George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988. When he walked up to the podium, he was down in the survey by double digits. His comeback and ultimate win started with an extraordinary acceptance speech (apparently written by Peggy Noonan).
The media and some observers often assess such a speech in ridiculous ways: how many minutes of applause? How many standing ovations? How many laughs? Or, what were the harshest lines of attacks against the opponent? For me as a political strategist, these things are of minor importance. When I prepare an important speech with a client of mine, I first always set out the strategic goals we want to achieve with it. Indeed, if you don’t know what you want to achieve with the speech, how can you later assess whether or not it was a success?
In the case of Donald Trump, he indeed had a lot to achieve with the speech:
- Unify the Republican party
- Convince the Republican base that he has true conservative values (which he actually probably doesn’t have)
- Reach out to new voters (which he is well-positioned to do as a businessman and reality show celebrity)
- Show contrast between himself and his opponent
In my view, he was moderately successful in achieving these goals. Trump is foremost a businessman – at identical distance to both parties. What he pulled off during the primaries is a semi-hostile takeover of the Republican party and it still showed during the convention week. Also, his pitch to Bernie Sanders voters is a long shot. Most of them will never vote for someone like Trump just because of a few lines that are critical of free-trade agreements. In terms of issues, Trump should focus on the economy. This is his biggest claim to fame and the democrats’ weakness. However, the speech was rather short regarding specific proposals on creating jobs.
This being said, he delivered quite a damaging critique of Clinton’s record as Secretary of State. There were also some lines about the future of the country that probably had appeal to less political voters. The part about keeping people from the LGBT community safe was personal and thoughtful – not the most important, but probably one of the best moments of the speech. Finally, the part about being an outsider that can fix the system had appeal for independent voters.
We will have to wait and see the effect of the speech and the convention all together. Candidates usually get a bounce in the surveys after their respective convention, but a lot of that bounce also evaporates after a couple of weeks.