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A Post-Convention Correction

Yesterday, having read an advance copy of Trump’s convention speech, I pronounced it “really good,” [1]and said that it made me think for the first time that he might win in November.

That was the speech on paper. The one he actually delivered was  not the same speech. It had big parts of the published version, but it seemed that he broke it up with constant riffing that dissipated its force.

He got the same message out, but unlike the written version, it had little coherence. It sounded like an angry man ranting (“And another thing…”). I gave up on the speech at one point. We were something like 40 minutes into the thing, and I knew how much more he had to go to complete the script. Couldn’t take any more of that guy shouting at me.

Trump might yet win, because he has powerful themes to work with. But after last night, watching him screw up the most important speech of his life with his inability to stay focused, I am much less confident in his ability to make the sale to the American people. Last night was his golden opportunity to re-introduce himself for the fall campaign. Had he simply stuck to the script that had been written for him, he would have made a strong impression.


But it would have been a false impression. What we got last night was the real Trump: a man so in love with the sound of his own voice that he can’t control himself when it counts. His personal lack of discipline is going to sink him in the general.

What did you think?

UPDATE: Reading the comments, I think some of you are missing my point. I don’t expect Trump to be Cicero. But the delivery is the message here. The fact that Trump could not do something as simple as stick to the speech he was supposed to give, and instead went off on a long, meandering rant, tells us something important about the man and the kind of leader he would be. Reading the advance copy of the speech was one thing; listening to how he riffed incessantly off of it in the actual delivery was very much another. It was like listening to a shouted recitation of a tweetstorm. It did not cohere, and that tells us something about Trump’s scattered, impulsive mind. Sure, no politician at his level writes his own speeches. But the fact that Trump could not remain disciplined long enough to give the most important speech of his life, and instead drifted off into ranting, gives an important clue into the kind of leader he would be.

The ability to communicate clearly and persuasively is a critical component of leadership in an age of mass media. Trump knows how to communicate in the sense of pushing buttons inside people who tend to agree with him already, and activating their passions. But that’s where it stops.

180 Comments (Open | Close)

180 Comments To "A Post-Convention Correction"

#1 Comment By Elrond On July 22, 2016 @ 7:55 pm

First rate analysis by Edward Hamilton. Hat’s off.

Next people are going to tell me MSM doesn’t collude and that all these references to dark dystopias are pure coincidence.

#2 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 22, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

George Will once wrote that Thomas Paine had written the single most effective political pamphlet in history. ‘Nuff said on that point.

Hillary Clinton does live in her own kind of bubble, but she is not incompetent. She is razor sharp competent, at doing the wrong things. The best argument I’ve heard for supporting Trump is that he’s not competent to do as much damage as she is.

Rod, the fact that he yelled a lot in a well-written speech does not tell us much about how his mind works. It just tells us that his speaking style differs from your preferences…

Nope, it tells us a lot about how his mind works. He can’t stay on point, he can’t stay any course because he can’t pick one in the first place, he can’t focus, he can’t adhere to any consistent set of principles. He blabs different things every day because he thinks different things every day. His mind is a mess, and for that matter, so is his business record.

#3 Comment By Jesse On July 22, 2016 @ 8:33 pm

“Cicero or not, people liked the speech. Has there ever been a greater disconnect between pundits and the American public?

75% of viewers in a CNN poll like the speech. CNN who are no fans of Trump.


In the same type of poll from last time around, 79% of people liked Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech in 2012. Shockingly, outside of political junkies, the people watching political conventions mostly already like the candidate.

“Jesse this election is probably going to be settled by people ion the rust belt and Florida. It doesn’t matter if people in places like Oregon and Delaware think things are going just great.”

Let’s see here – let’s go to the average, all from Pollster.com. I’ve just given Clinton Illinois and Trump Indiana.

Wisconsin – +9 Clinton average
Iowa – +3 Clinton average
Michigan – +7 Clinton average
Ohio – +4 Clinton average
Florida – +2 Clinton average

And in all those states, Trump barely gets above 40. Hillary Clinton just had her worst week + Trump just had his rollout at the RNC and he still can’t get above 40.

I don’t think Clinton has this thing locked, but I do think that on Election Day, a lot of Trump supporters will be feeling like Pauline Kael, in that there is a Silent Majority in America, but it’s not Nixon’s Silent Majority, but a new Silent Majority of white collar secular social liberals + minorities.

#4 Comment By Glaivester On July 22, 2016 @ 8:42 pm

We’re used to politicians and their surrogates making messianic claims, but January 17th? What’s up with that Tuesday?

Probably she meant January ’17 (i.e. January 2017)?

#5 Comment By Panicked Panglosses On July 22, 2016 @ 9:10 pm

Love it. Having helped turn the country into a moral cesspool, an economic basketcase, and a frothing-at-the-mouth interventionist Goliath fighting and killing in multiple countries for over a decade now, the New York Times has the nerve to chide Trump for his “dark vision”!!!!

We’re not supposed to know that things are so screwed up, you see. The Emperor is fully clothed and all’s right in this, the best of all possible worlds.

If the NYT people and other elites didn’t want to be treated with contempt they shouldn’t have behaved contemptibly. If they feel revulsion at Trump’s “dark vision”, they shouldn’t have so darkened the world.

[NFR: No Trump fan here, as you know, but boy, do you ever have a point here. When I read the Times site most days, and see the things they consider signs of progress, I feel us sinking further into the mire. — RD]

#6 Comment By tz On July 22, 2016 @ 9:13 pm

The polls said 56% were more likely to vote for him and 75% liked the speech.

This is the second article that shows even AmConMag’s authors are out of touch with the base.

We aren’t looking for elites, or their high-church criticism. What you heard only maybe 5% would see and agree with.

Do you also similarly rate the problem with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader cheers that they might not be perfect grammar or might not be properly making the point?

#7 Comment By VikingLS On July 22, 2016 @ 9:51 pm

“Maybe they were meant to float a trial balloon or something, reflecting some interest that Trump has in those issues but hasn’t previously expressed.”

That’s not really what I’m suggesting.

#8 Comment By fenster On July 22, 2016 @ 9:53 pm

Who wins political debates is not a matter of the Oxford style. It is a question of who advances his candidacy.

The question of the quality of Trump’s speech is not a question of whether you think it went on too long, wasn’t as crisp as the written version, or that he yelled. It is a question of whether it advanced his candidacy.

From the numbers I have seen that seems to be the case. Rhetoric is, brutally, a function of accomplishing aims.

#9 Comment By L617 On July 22, 2016 @ 10:52 pm

Re the “LGBT-Q” line, that was NOT a show of support of gays/lesbians. It was an argument against Islamists. It was in no way a sign that the GOP tent got bigger. If anything, it was an indicator that it remained the same size, only more belligerent.

#10 Comment By L617 On July 22, 2016 @ 11:00 pm

Silouan Green: “75% of viewers in a CNN poll like the speech. CNN who are no fans of Trump.”

I’d posit that the broader public rarely watches these things. They’re watching “Real Housewives” or “Ghost Hunters” or some such stuff. Those who watched the speech in full were likely already Trump-leaners. To garner 75% approval from those already sympathetic to your position is hardly an accomplishment. I know a number of GOP-leaners who were gob-smacked silent by it all.

#11 Comment By russ On July 22, 2016 @ 11:00 pm


Jesse this election is probably going to be settled by people ion the rust belt and Florida. It doesn’t matter if people in places like Oregon and Delaware think things are going just great.

DE is your example of an E. Coast elitist state?? Really? I live in NJ about 20 minutes from the bridge into DE, and I never even think about the existence of DE, except when considering if its morally acceptable to shop there and take advantage of the lack of sales tax, and how much I’d need to spend to offset the toll.

So far, my answer is “no” about the ethics; by law I’d need to record my purchases on my state tax return at the end of the year and pony up the taxes then…not that anyone around here does that.

Sorry, I’m way off topic, but the DE sales tax is more interesting than more yammering about Trump…okay, I also just finished a nice sized glass of rye, so that probably has something to do with my meandering as well…

#12 Comment By dan On July 22, 2016 @ 11:03 pm

I find the “things aren’t so bad, crime is down” arguments coming from the Left pretty rich, considering we’ve had decades of hearing how terrible and racist and violent America is. Along comes Trump, talking about violence in our urban areas and the kids in these areas (you know, the areas where America is disproportionately violent), and he’s “too bleak”. Something strange has happened in that its become unPC to for the left to talk about black on black violence (because BLM?). I think Obama’s “birds are still singing” comments, and similar comments, have left the door wide open for Trump to really hammer home that HE is the candidate who gives a damn about black youth in America. He’ll have to play his cards right, but I think the possibility is there. The trick is to do this while being the ‘law and order candidate’.

#13 Comment By relstprof On July 23, 2016 @ 1:20 am

Edward Hamilton writes: “But if Trump has even a few percent of such voters hidden from current polling, and the current polls are otherwise accurate, I think that we might witness a unprecedented alliance of low-attention rural and young voters who combine to push Trump over the top.”

A couple rejoinders. By all accounts, Trump has no ground game or GoTV organization. So one would have to count on these disaffected youths finding the willpower to register and show up when they’re needed without any help. A tall order. Trump’s support so far has been non-first time voters, i.e. Republicans and some Democrats — his voters skew older.

Then they need to show up in OH, VA, FL, and NV or NH. The national percentage points really don’t matter in this case. They have to show up in these states like a tsunami (maybe WI and IA too, depending on how you do the swing-state math). The Democrats have viable machines in OH, VA, and FL. Another tall order, when Clinton’s GoTV is swinging into action. What’s the old saying? “In war, logistics is everything.” The easier path for Trump at this stage is to try and convince registered Democrats to vote for him.

But your description of this potential voting demographic is spot on, imho. This who they are.

#14 Comment By relstprof On July 23, 2016 @ 1:31 am

Ugh. This is who they are.

Also, Kasich doesn’t seem very interested in making the R machine work for Trump in OH. That’s a troubling roadblock.

#15 Comment By E. Potson On July 23, 2016 @ 1:42 am

CharleyCarp: “I don’t doubt, and have never doubted, that Trump will win every state won by Romney. The question is can he turn enough states won by Obama.”

If I had to place a bet, I would wager that Trump will lose North Carolina as well as every state that Obama won in 2012. I think it is probable that he will win Arizona, but doing so will require him to invest money and other resources that no other Republican presidential candidate has had to expend in recent memory.

While the national polls over the past 6+ months have shown significant changes, I believe Trump has led Clinton in the polling averages only twice, only by very small margins and only very briefly.

I haven’t seen any polls this entire election season that show Trump with a higher margin among key voter blocks than Romney had. He’s underperforming Romney among white women, college-educated whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and probably Jews as well. Realistically, what is going to reverse this? Shouting “crook,” “liar,” and “Benghazi” louder or more frequently is not going to do it.

Also, there’s very little reason to think that even acts of terrorism or high-profile tragedies like the cop killings we’ve seen will improve Trump’s chances. Those things have occurred and Trump did not benefit. I suspect he didn’t benefit because he hasn’t provided any explanation of how he would improve things in this area. In fact, his responses to these events probably caused people to have less confidence in him.

Basically, I don’t think the race is going to be close in either the popular vote or the electoral college. I suspect that come inauguration day, we’ll all look back and think the outcome was never in doubt at any point during this entire year.

#16 Comment By Outrider On July 23, 2016 @ 4:10 am

Hillary Clinton just had her worst week

If history is any guide, Mrs. Clinton’s “worst week” is always before her. She can’t help it, and those around her can’t fix it, because it’s who she is.

Pity poor Kaine, who seemed like a nice enough guy, soon to bear the Clinton taint – and already a source of anger and division as Clinton consolidates her stranglehold on the party by smashing the youthful, hopeful Sanders people.

#17 Comment By VikingLS On July 23, 2016 @ 6:30 am


I just picked DE as an example of a state that isn’t collapsing economically. I apologize if that’s inaccurate.

#18 Comment By Paolo Pagliaro On July 23, 2016 @ 6:46 am

“…gives an important clue into the kind of leader he would be.”

No, it does not. There is a difference between a public speech in preparation of the elections, and a presidential decision when you are already elected.
Obama was very calm and hieratic when he delivered his “Hope and change” address; was he, therefore, considerate and wise in his actual governing acts? Racial healing?

The real question should be: what does Trump really stand for? what does Clinton really stand for? Of course, here I am talking about a “lesser evil” issue; but, at 50, I am still waiting for an election where I see the perfect, or even a good candidate (I am Italian).

In that regard, I still don’t understand what is your criticism of Cruz. Sometimes it seems you’re expecting, on the conservative side, a perfect political and spiritual leader who is also an impeccable and elegant gentleman. Some clarification would be welcome.

#19 Comment By the unworthy craftsman On July 23, 2016 @ 6:56 am

Edward Hamilton’s good comment about “reactionary” “disengaged young males” deals with a phenomenon that was covered thoroughly by Angela Nagle in an excellent Baffler article called “New Man of 4Chan”.

#20 Comment By Elijah On July 23, 2016 @ 7:49 am

“They want their buttons pushed and he did that very very well.”

Absolutely. And the talking heads saying “things aren’t that bad”, “crime is down”, “the economy is recovering” just don’t get it. Those things may even be true in a national sense, but they are not felt on a local level.

FWIW in evangelical country, Trump isn’t the first choice of most. But faced with the known entity that is Hillary, and her toxic identity politics, I think a lot of them are prepared to take a flier with Trump.

Camille Paglia made the best argument against Hillary: she’s incompetent. She couldn’t even stave off an FBI investigation into her emails; she’s lucky that AG Lynch was in the bag.

#21 Comment By Hound of Ulster On July 23, 2016 @ 9:21 am

And yet, Trump is getting 0% (yes 0) of the black vote. And the only people that watch conventions now are partisans or leaners. Trump’s speech also had 200,000 fewer viewers than Romney’s. If the ‘Silent Majority’ of Nixon was still operative, then Obama would never have been elected in the first place. Most of Sanders’s supporters will ultimately vote for Hillary, who, contrary to what Rush Limbaugh told you yesterday, is not a gangster…

#22 Comment By Maynard Toll On July 23, 2016 @ 10:01 am

As a non-religious moderate democrat, I am not always entirely in agreement with your observations, Rod. But I keep reading them because they are always civilized, intelligent, perceptive, and interesting. The comments you elicit from readers, which range across the spectrum of political opinion, are also generally intelligent, civilized and interesting, which is also a tribute to you and to the example you set. So thanks for what you do, and keep at it.

#23 Comment By JLF On July 23, 2016 @ 10:19 am

In reading (and rereading) the comments above, I think i’ve begun to understand Karl Rove’s point back in 2004 when he famously claimed that Republicans have no need for reality; they create their own reality and the world must adjust to it. This election underscores his point and makes the further point that Democrats are no less wedded to their reality.

That one is more in sync with “real reality” – whatever that means in an age when half the population dismisses scientific evidence, scorns the lessons history teaches (if they are even aware of history’s lessons) and fervently thinks the lack of will alone is the cause of the ruin they see – will probably determine how effective the administration that takes office in January will become. I never thought Trump would get this far, and though I have always had low expectations of my fellow voters, I have become increasingly discouraged by their proud lack of information, let alone knowledge, and their attraction to the “strong man” form of leadership, a form of leadership that has caused ruin for Germany and Italy in the last century, not to mention South American dictatorships of the right and left then and now.

#24 Comment By vj On July 23, 2016 @ 11:13 am

Trump’s speech was ideal in tone and perfect in the amount of impromptu additions he made on the spot, which enlivened the speech and made it a living, breathing, passionate presentation instead of merely a typically stilted prepared speech that never digresses at all but sticks slavishly to a text. The speech cohered extremely well–for those able to follow Trump’s train of thought, which is unusually Mercurial and thus requires more mental vitality, flexibility and integrated thinking than Mr. Dreher is accustomed to practicing.

#25 Comment By russ On July 23, 2016 @ 2:04 pm


I see now what you were saying about DE. To clarify, I was just messing around. Maybe I shouldn’t comment here after I drink whiskey.

I actually don’t know much about DE’s economy more generally, although I will make a more general point: In this region (S. Jersey, parts of MD, a good bit of DE, probably some of PA too), there’s a fair bit more of that white/poor/Trump-supporting demographic than many imagine.

#26 Comment By Michael Guarino On July 23, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

Nope, it tells us a lot about how his mind works. He can’t stay on point, he can’t stay any course because he can’t pick one in the first place, he can’t focus, he can’t adhere to any consistent set of principles. He blabs different things every day because he thinks different things every day. His mind is a mess, and for that matter, so is his business record.

Again, the problem is that is not what happened in the speech. He digressed, but for emphasis or to focus on the task at hand – beating Hillary instead of “locking her up”. The confirmation bias here is so massive that you guys have used a case that is not even ambiguous in the first place as support of your impressions.

The only thing that might have been executed poorly was his tone. But he was also spending an hour explaining every failure of Hillary.

#27 Comment By dan On July 23, 2016 @ 6:46 pm

“And yet, Trump is getting 0% (yes 0) of the black vote.”

Not to say Trump is the answer, but for some reason blacks keep voting near 100 percent for politicians who have a vested interest in their failure.

I think the window is open for Trump to make the hardest play a Republican has made for black votes in a long time. No establishment candidate can make a serious or remotely compelling case to have any interest in Black America at this point. His school choice idea is very compelling to black Americans whose children are generally stuck in failing schools. He seems to be the only candidate who recognizes the astronomical murder rates in urban centers.

As I said, the trick is doing this while being the “law and order” candidate. How does one do that given what “law and order” means to so many blacks. He might be able to temper that by taking a libertarian page out of Rand Paul’s book and talking about silly laws and discriminatory sentencing. He could weigh in on cases like Eric Garner (stupid law led to his death)…find ways to be legitimately critical of how the system is anti-black in its practical results. Most whites, even conservative whites, would be receptive to this if its not wrapped up in the brainwash PC lingo of “anti-discrimination” and BLM. Let’s be honest, those are political organizations which (their leadership) LOVE to see a black man get killed by a white man, because it serves their cause.

Does Trump care about black kids in urban areas? Can he communicate it? Does he have the courage to communicate it? If so he has an opportunity. The footage of black mothers whose children didn’t get selected at the charter school lotteries are POWERFUL and HEART RENDING. Can Trump deliver the message of tragedy affecting black youth with the passion of Chief Flynn?
(go to about 1:15)

Trump should HAMMER on this point until November. It should be his primary issue. It would go a long way toward breaking the accusation that he is running an identity politics campaign and I think he could make a meaningful dent in the black vote.

#28 Comment By Anne On July 23, 2016 @ 8:01 pm

The most jarring thing about Trump’s “strong man” campaign and agenda (“Trust me, I’m the only one who can handle this”) is what a thin-skinned, insecure complainer the man himself really is.

#29 Comment By Anne On July 23, 2016 @ 9:01 pm

The thing is, whatever Trump does now, be it talk like a bully, plagiarize the Gettysberg Address, or compare shoe sizes with Bill Clinton, somebody somewhere is going to declare him a genius. We’re Americans, that’s what we do, flatter winners…until they lose.

#30 Comment By VikingLS On July 25, 2016 @ 12:05 am


I lived in New Jersey for a couple of years. (I love Jersey) I know that it’s got its rural redneck side. That’s why I picked on another state. 😛