Writing Tonight’s Speech—and Hoping President Trump Will Stay on Message

From a New York Times story, by Katie Rogers, headlined “Speech for a Big Night Scrupulously Compiled by Unassuming Hands”:

There are two categories of speechwriters in Washington, but only one of them can survive for long in President Trump’s White House.

The first type—of which there are many examples in both parties—is defined by those who have used the coveted role of presidential speechwriter as the jumping-off point for a lucrative career as a political commentator, and seem headed in that direction from the time they arrive at the White House.

The second category is personified by little-known aides like Vince Haley and Ross Worthington, the speechwriters who have assembled the State of the Union speech Mr. Trump will deliver Tuesday night with its theme of the “Great American Comeback,” and will give the president all the credit. . . .

As this year’s draft began to take shape, Mr. Haley and Mr. Worthington received high-level edits from Stephen Miller, with occasional feedback from Anthony R. Dolan, the former chief speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan who works in the White House as an adviser for planning. . . .

“It’s a difficult, difficult speech to do,” Mr. Dolan told The New York Times in 1982, “because you have all the competing claims of the nation’s business, and at the same time, the stylistic demands of coherence and grace.”

The added demand of this administration, it seems, is to make sure the writer’s voice does not compete with Mr. Trump’s. Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, put himself on the president’s radar—not necessarily in a good way—by injecting fire-and-brimstone flourishes into Mr. Trump’s early speeches, including his notorious “American carnage” inaugural address. . . .

Mr. Trump is expected, at least for now, to compartmentalize his anger over impeachment and stick to calling for legislation that adheres to his administration’s policy goals. The hope among friends and advisers is that he will stay on message. . . .

As in years past, Mr. Trump is expected to use the final hours before the speech preparing in the Map Room of the White House, editing drafts with his Sharpie, and speaking from a prompter to get a feeling for how the words might sound. . . .

Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, said Mr. Haley and Mr. Worthington are particularly good at scripting “the presidential version” of Mr. Trump, even under tight deadlines.

He described them as “pleasant and chill people” who have a “low resting heart rate” even as the mood inside the White House shifts quickly.


  1. In January 1968 I had taken a break from journalism to serve as a Congressional Fellow in the Senate office of Vice President Humphrey. My boss was Norman Sherman, the Vice President’s press secretary, and my first job in January and February was to send telegrams to organizations that had invited the Vice President to speak but he was saying no. Writing those telegrams quickly got old and I thought it’d be educational to write a speech for the Vice President. I went to Doug Bennet, the chief speechwriter, and asked if I could try writing a Humphrey speech, and he said sure, the Vice President is speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce next month, go ahead and write one for him.

    I worked on the speech for maybe 10 days. My first job in journalism had been writing the UPI broadcast wire so I thought I knew something about how to write words that would be spoken. I gave Doug a speech draft—he glanced over it and said something about it reading well.

    It came time for the Vice President to give the speech and early that day the text of Humphrey’s speech was released to the media. I eagerly picked up the advance text and discovered that Doug hadn’t used a single phrase I had written.

    Disappointed, I went to the Chamber of Commerce dinner. Humphrey gave a good speech but he winged it, as he liked to do, and didn’t use a single phrase Doug had written.

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