Day after day, the candidates for president wake up, brush their teeth and pump themselves up to say the same thing they did yesterday.
And the day before. And the day before that.
Most of what they say won’t make the evening news, or get tweeted or repeated. But that spiel they repeat, with variations, to audience after audience in state after state, is a campaign essential.
Lo, the lowly stump speech.
It’s the hour-long infrastructure that surrounds the two-minute nugget in which the candidate may say something new and important on any given day.
It distills who the candidates are as people, what they want to accomplish as president – and, hopefully, shows a little humor along the way.
The candidates’ speeches have their own personalities and rhythms – Hillary Clinton‘s is wonkish, Donald Trump‘s free-wheeling – but there are common denominators: the stock jokes, the humanizing anecdotes, the surefire applause lines and more.
An anatomy of the 2016 stump speeches:
Each candidate has a go-to playlist to whip up the crowd pre- and post-speech. Hillary Clinton relies on Rachel Platten‘s “Fight Song.” Bernie Sanders always exits to David Bowie‘s “Starman.” Donald Trump’s playlist is jarringly eclectic – imagine a segue from the operatic strains of “Nessun Dorma” to the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Sometimes, Trump enters to 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This” and exits to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Ted Cruz walks off to “Only in America” by Brooks & Dunn. For John Kasich, it’s O.A.R’s “This Town.”
Trump likes to start out with a big “Wow, beautiful!,” marveling at the size of his crowds. Wherever you live, Cruz apparently considers it hallowed ground. His stump speech always opens: “God bless the great state of (insert name here).” Clinton is “thrilled” to be wherever she is. When addressing church groups, she likes to open with a verse from Psalms: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Or something like that. One day, she offered, “Let us rejoice and sing of it.”
GESTURES AND FLOURISHES
Sanders hunches forward and grips the two sides of his lectern before shooting out both arms in whirls of concentric loopiness. He’ll urge crowds to help deliver a “yuuuge” turnout on primary day. Kasich often brings a prop: a clock that shows the growing national debt. Trump turns the frequent protesters at his rallies into part of the show, urging security personnel to “get ’em out of here.” Cruz, who strolls with a hand-held microphone, will stick a hand in his pocket before whipping it back out for emphasis. Clinton drops her voice from a near-shout to a hush for dramatic effect: Think Oprah.
COMPELLING PERSONAL STORIES
Kasich reminds people that he’s the mailman’s son and coal miner’s grandson who grew up in a blue-collar town where “if the wind blew the wrong way, people found themselves out of work.” Cruz tells of how his father washed dishes for 50 cents a day after escaping from Cuba. Billionaire Trump’s up-by-the-bootstraps story is a little different. “My father gave me great knowledge, didn’t give me a lot,” he’ll say, and then explain that he got a $1 million loan from his dad and turned it into assets worth more than $10 billion.
REFRAINS, TURNS OF PHRASE
Trump is all about winning, offering variations on a theme: “Oh, are we going to win. You’re going to get so tired of winning. You’re going to get so tired. You’re going to say, please, please, Mr. President, we can’t stand it anymore. We don’t want to keep winning. We can’t stand it.” Sanders advises his rallies that his campaign “is about thinking outside of the box and outside of the status quo.” Clinton pledges to “go anywhere, anytime to meet with anyone to find common ground.” Kasich promises he won’t “take the low road to the highest office in the land.”
Clinton likes to recall a little girl who asked her, “If you’re elected the girl president, will you be paid the same as the boy president?” Kasich regales crowds with his improbable visit to Richard Nixon’s Oval Office as an 18-year-old college freshman. Sanders loves to remind crowds of those early campaign days when he was regarded as a “fringe candidate” running at 3 percent in the polls. Trump tells of a friend who recently bought Komatsu tractors for his construction business instead of U.S.-made Caterpillar equipment because the yen is so low that the Japanese models were cheaper.
Kasich, whose stump speech segues into a “town hall” Q-and-A, invariably opens the latter section by telling the first questioner, “I’ve done a lot of town hall meetings and they’ve all been pretty good, so let’s not blow this one.” When he didn’t like one man’s question, he confessed, to laughter, “I wish I hadn’t called on you.” Cruz has his own jokey transition to question time, telling his audiences, “I’m happy to answer,” long pause, “or dodge any question you have.” He dissects the word “politics” like this: “poli,” meaning many, and “tics,” meaning “blood-sucking parasites.” Then this kicker: “That is a fairly accurate description of Washington, D.C.” Clinton at times will take note of the public’s fascination with her hair and Trump’s, revealing that while her “hair is real, the color isn’t. And come to think of it, I wonder if that’s true for Donald, too.”
When things get slow, Trump likes to ask his crowds who will pay for the wall he’s promised to build at the Mexican border. “Mexico!” they’ll oblige. When Sanders’ crowds boo at his references to the influence of the rich and their super PACs, the candidate bestows praise, saying, “This is a smart audience!” Clinton invites people at her rallies to call out the high interest rates they’re paying on their student loans.
No shortage of material here. Clinton rails against the rhetoric of Trump and Cruz as “not only offensive, it’s dangerous.” Cruz likes to tell his crowds that Clinton may want to return to the White House, but he’s got “other government housing” in mind for her, a suggestion that she may face charges over her handling of email as secretary of state. Trump tosses out legions of put-downs against bad trade deals, the “rigged political system,” past and present GOP rivals – “lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “little Marco” Rubio, “low-energy” Jeb Bush – and the “dishonest” press corps covering his speeches. Sanders demonizes a “rigged economy” that favors the 1 percent, the “corrupt” campaign finance system and the wealthy Koch brothers and their outsized political influence, declaring, “That’s not democracy, that’s oligarchy!”
Smart candidates localize their speeches to connect with the audience, often puffing up local politicians who are on hand. Cruz is a pro at this. When he campaigned in Iowa with conservative stalwart Rep. Steve King, the Texas senator frequently told this anecdote: “An awful lot of kids, when they go to bed at night, they wear Superman pajamas. Well, Superman, he wears Chuck Norris pajamas. And Chuck Norris wears Steve King pajamas. “Flash forward to a rally before Wisconsin’s primary, when Cruz was joined by the state’s governor, Scott Walker. “Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas,” Cruz said. “And Chuck Norris wears Scott Walker pajamas.”
Trump turned an unexpected dimming of the lights at one rally into a metaphor for his own negotiating prowess, telling the crowd that he’d refuse to pay for renting the hall because the lights went out – even though he liked it better without the bright lights. “That’s the kind of sick thinking we need for our country,” he added. Cruz has a script even for when things go off-script. Anytime something goes awry at a Cruz rally, such as lighting or sound, he’ll tell the crowd some version of this riff: “That’s the Obama NSA. They hear there’s a gathering of Iowans seeking the peaceable overthrow of the government.” Clinton livened up one rally when she wished that a dog could follow around Republicans and bark when they tell untruths, underscoring her point with a spontaneous “arf, arf, arf, arf!”
For all their efforts to make their stump speeches sound new and fresh, the candidates themselves acknowledge, at times, the rote nature of their job. “I’m just like a FedEx package; I just get sent from one location to another,” Kasich lamented at one stop. Trump tells his crowds that the protesters make his events more interesting. “Otherwise, we could get a little bored,” he says. As for making speeches multiple times a day, Trump says, “You think that’s easy? It’s not.” Cruz, at the end of one 28-stop, weeklong campaign blitz in Iowa, thanked reporters for pretending to laugh at the same jokes they’d heard dozens of times.
Candidates invariably shake hands on their way out of their rallies – some with more gusto than others. For Trump, it’s apparently a squeamish experience. The self-described “clean-hands freak” wrote in one of his books that “one of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.