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Joe Slade White: Trump needs to keep speech serious, without theatrics

Joe Slade White of East Aurora, a nationally known political consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates at all levels of government, is providing a Democratic perspective on the Republican National Convention in response to questions from Jerry Zremski, the News Washington Bureau chief. When the Democrats hold their national convention next week, The News will similarly interview Republican strategist Michael Caputo.


Donald Trump’s acceptance speech is tonight. What does he need to accomplish in this speech?

All candidates want an audience to go wild with enthusiasm, and Trump thrives on that at his rallies – but tonight, more than any other night in his entire life, Trump must not care. Thirty-six years ago, the Republicans nominated an actor. The American public had some doubts as to whether Ronald Reagan had the gravitas and could reach out beyond his right-wing base of support. He delivered a measured and powerful acceptance speech and the performance was perfectly gauged at the television audience at home. I remember TV reporters commenting from the floor that the delegates were disappointed by Reagan’s performance. And I thought to myself, “Ah hah!” Michael Deaver, his longtime adviser, knew exactly what he was doing. Trump needs to remember that. He won’t lose necessarily if he starts shouting and waving his arms, but if you see that, you will know that he has missed a serious opportunity.


Trump plans on appearing at the RNC, either in person or on video, every night of the convention. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?

People need to see Donald Trump continuing to build more power from his identity as the non-politician and the truth teller (and let me be clear, I don’t think he’s telling the truth about 90 percent of the time) … The appearances, as they have been so far, need to be varied strategically, to give three dimensions to what up to now has been a fairly two-dimensional person at best. The third dimension in science is depth, and the same goes for politics. You can more easily knock down a two-dimensional cutout of any candidate. A candidate with three-dimensional depth is much harder to knock down.


Trump family members have unusually prominent roles speaking in this convention. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, and why?

One of the highlights of my career was witnessing a young attorney general from Delaware named Beau Biden speak so beautifully and powerfully about his father at the Democratic Convention in Denver in 2008. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have served as Senator and Vice President Joe Biden’s media strategist for 22 years, and for Beau Biden’s campaigns for attorney general. Beau’s speech electrified the delegates but more importantly, the television audience watching and listening at home. It is just plain wrong to dismiss the unique emotional strength of a son or daughter or husband or wife speaking from the heart about a candidate. Having Trump family members speak is actually critical (putting aside the plagiarism gaffe). They give him grounding.

On Tuesday night, Ben Carson tried to link Hillary Clinton with Lucifer, the devil himself. What political impact will that have?

I think the sooner we all forget that Ben Carson was even considered as a candidate for president, the better off everyone will be – including Ben Carson.


Several times during the convention, the crowd has chanted: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” in referring to Hillary Clinton. What do you think about that?

Sometimes a candidate’s worst enemies (other than always potentially themselves) are their most ardent supporters. And to the extent that ardent supporters turn off or even scare those voters whom one needs to win, that’s a huge problem. Does he need America to hear people screaming or chanting, “Lock her up! Lock her up!”? No. Does that chant probably make him smile? Probably. Does it help him win? No, not one single vote.


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