What to expect from the five most interesting speeches at the RNC

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Originally Published: 23 AUG 20 15:00 ET
Updated: 23 AUG 20 15:54 ET

(CNN) — The Republican National Convention gets underway in just about 24 hours. With the eyes of the political world laser-focused on what President Donald Trump will do — and whether it will change the trajectory of his re-election race — I am dedicating the Sunday newsletter this week to a look at the five most important speeches of the RNC. And they’re ranked — so the No. 1 speech is the most important of the coming convention.

5. Melania Trump:

While the first lady’s speech on Tuesday night isn’t likely to have any sort of major impact on the political landscape, it will, without doubt, be one of the most-watched addresses of the four-night convention.

To start, people are endlessly fascinated by Melania Trump. She rarely speaks in public. And her speech at the 2016 Republican convention was shrouded in controversy after the campaign admitted that some parts of her address had been directly lifted from then-first lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

As CNN’s Kate Bennett reported last week of the first lady’s planned speech:

“This time the first lady is again, opting not to use a professional speechwriting team for her convention address, relying instead on her small circle of staff, according to a Republican strategist, speaking with anonymity to preserve working relations within the White House.”

Bennett also noted that the first lady is not expected to be a major surrogate for her husband on the campaign trail this fall. So this may be the last time we hear from her in anything more than a soundbite here and there before voters head to the polls on November 3.

4. Donald Trump, Jr.:

The oldest son of the President has been open about his interest in running for office at some point in the not-too-distant future. His Monday night speech will be the biggest dry run for those ambitions yet.

If you are not familiar with what kind of speech Junior will give, here’s a quick preview: Imagine Donald Trump’s Trump-iest speech. Then multiply that times 10. That gets you in the general universe of where the DJTJ speech will be coming from.

Trump Jr. — for anyone who, say, follows his Instagram feed — is essentially a right-wing Internet troll. But one who also happens to be, as I noted above, the eldest son of the President of the United States.

While the sort of red-meat address that Trump Jr. is known for would work better with a live audience driven into a furor by his over-the-top rhetoric, my guess is that he won’t throttle things back an iota.

The speech — almost no matter what it says — will be lauded by the Trump wing of the party. And likely encourage DJTJ to lean even harder into his national political ambitions.

3. Mike Pence:

You sort of know what you are going to get from the vice president at this point: A speech loaded with praise for President Trump as the single greatest president and leader ever in the history of time and space.

Pence has understood since he accepted the VP nomination that his future political fate — which he wants to be behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office — rests with total fealty to Trump in hopes of being the President’s chosen political heir.

The only question then for me in the Pence speech is whether he tries to outline any sort of vision of what a Pence presidency or a Pence view of the GOP would look like.

Prior to accepting the VP gig, Pence was one of the most outspoken social conservative voices within the GOP — and someone who pushed the need for balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility.

He’s downplayed a lot of those past positions in the past four years to go along and get along with Trump, who doesn’t really share them. But if there was ever a time — and a high-profile platform — for Pence to make clear what he stands for and what America would look like under a President Pence, this would seem to be the time.

2. Nikki Haley:

While (uninformed) speculation continues to swirl that Trump will pull a switcheroo this week and replace Vice President Mike Pence with the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, that isn’t going to happen.

But Haley’s speech is still very, very important — and will be the most closely watched address other than that of the president.

Why? Because Haley is widely expected to be a presidential candidate in her own right in 2024 — whether Trump wins in November or not.

And at least at the moment, she would do so from a very unique position: Someone who has somehow managed to offer some criticism of Trump without winding up on the wrong end of a Twitter tirade.

Haley left the administration in October 2018 with the rarest of things from the less-than-magnanimous Trump: An Oval Office send-off. Trump praised Haley for doing a “fantastic job” and offered her the chance to come back to the administration in whatever role she saw fit.

Despite that send-off, Haley has, occasionally, been willing to criticize Trump since leaving. In the wake of his derogatory comments about the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’s Baltimore-area congressional district, Haley tweeted: “This is so unnecessary,” with an accompanying eyeroll emoji.

So, in a speech that is clearly about the 2024 election (and what the post-Trump party looks like) where does Haley land on the President? She won’t, obviously, use her speech to bash him. (She wouldn’t have been invited to speak if that was the plan.) But does she simply affirm his decidedly un-conservative approach to governance, or use the platform outline what Haley-ism would look like?

1. Donald Trump:

Well, duh.

Unlike the Democratic convention last week where the party had several major political stars (Barack and Michelle Obama, newly unveiled VP pick Kamala Harris) and music stars (John Legend, Billie Eilish, Jennifer Hudson), there is only one real marketable star on the Republican side: Donald Trump.

And the President knows it. (He is nothing if not savvy about star power and what makes people watch TV.) It’s why he is expected to appear at some point on all four nights of the convention — including Thursday, when he delivers his formal acceptance speech.

(Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that the President would be “speaking at various parts through each of the nights.”)

No matter how many times we see Trump before Thursday night — and my guess is we are going to see him A LOT — it’s his speech to close the convention that matters most.

Trump has to find some way to reframe the race in that speech because, if he doesn’t, he appears to be headed toward a defeat in November.

His attempts to paint Joe Biden as out of it and mentally not up to the job took a big hit last week with the former Vice President’s extremely strong acceptance speech. The coronavirus has slowed some across the country but the United States continues to lead the world in cases and deaths — all the while a majority of Americans disapprove of how Trump is handling the pandemic.

Trump and his advisers have been promising a more optimistic convention than what they describe as the downer of Democrats’ gathering last week. But is that what people — still fearful of coronavirus and struggling through the economic downturn it has caused — really want?

The-CNN-Wire
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