Be Careful Mr. Cruz: Revenge Can Be Self Destructive!

It was an accident prone week for the principal speakers at Republican Convention last week. We had Melania Trump’s speech which followed a customary ceremonial (epideictic) model; then we had Ted Cruz’s speech, which was a forensic speech albeit a negative one, and finally Donald Trump’s acceptance speech, which was deliberate in style and content. All three speeches made headlines all over the world for different reasons.

We normally expect the deliberate speech from the candidate, and ceremonial type speeches from those preceding the principal acceptance. They are meant to introduce the candidate to the convention. But this did not happen in the case of Ted Cruz.

Melania Trump’s speech was certainly a ceremonial type speech and followed the lines set by Bob Dole’s wife’s ceremonial speech to the Republican Convention of 1996. Mrs. Dole’s speech had set a high standard and is long remembered, not only for her delivery, but because during the speech she left the podium and walked down into the audience while talking about her husband’s qualities. It was a speech in honour, in praise, of her husband; probably one of the model ceremonial speeches. Mrs. Trump’s speech attempted the same. What went wrong?

The headlines of The Guardian newspaper on 20th July last read, “Republicans scrambled to prevent a plagiarism scandal from overshadowing the coronation of Donald Trump on Tuesday after his wife Melania borrowed large chunks of her opening night speech from Michelle Obama”. The Guardian is hardly neutral when it comes down to Donald Trump, and, indeed, to Republicans in general, so we have to accept some exaggeration in language. To describe the 50 words copied from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech as ‘large chunks’ was somewhat exaggerated. It was 50 words out of a speech totalling 1,400 words. But nevertheless it was plagiarism even though on a small scale.

Mrs. Trump is in good company. Far more serious examples of plagiarism were those of Martin Luther King and of Joe Biden, the current US Vice President. Even Johnny Cash, the country and western singer, was caught plagiarizing other people’s songs. But plagiarism is not restricted to the United States. Two German government ministers not so many years ago, for example, were also dragged over the coals for plagiarism in their doctoral dissertations. These were far more serious affairs than were Melania Trump’s 50 words.

Instead of a second ‘epideictic’ speech as is the custom, Ted Cruz delivered a forensic speech attacking Donald Trump instead of praising him. ‘Forensic’ speeches are not usually negative but rather about known facts, analysis and rationality as used in business or the law courts.

Marion McKeon reporting from Cleveland writes, Ted Cruz came to Cleveland not to praise Trump, but to bury him. And with a Shakespearean flourish, in front of a televised audience of ten million people, he buried the hatch, in Trump’s back”.

Cruz’s speech was highly legalistic and intellectually watertight. It was designed to have maximum impact on the convention floor and it did. Cruz refused to endorse Trump, saying that each man must vote with his conscience.

Aristotle’s third category, the ‘deliberate’ one, was delivered by Trump himself and was about future actions and his vision of what he would do. But given that Donald Trump is no great orator following in the footsteps of Barrack Obama or John F. Kennedy, he communicated the impression of a brash and aggressive man who lacked all the skills of the polished speakers whom we normally associate with Washington. But this may be part of his attraction for many voters.

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, possesses those polished skills required by Washington, but, unfortunately for her, her reputation is stained. She is hardly known as a pelican of virtue either. It appears that the non-verbal aspects of this year’s speeches may be as important as, or even more important than their content: the brash Donald Trump versus the slippery Hilary Clinton.

Recent events at the Republican Convention in Cleveland will bear the validity that speeches do matter, and audiences are influenced by them. Both Melania Trump’s and Ted Cruz’s should have been, according to custom, epideictic or ceremonial speeches; but only one was – Mrs. Trump’s speech, which was temporarily plagued by scandal.

The other, by Ted Cruz, was in fact a forensic speech which was intentionally plagued with negativity.  This may have done more damage to Cruz’s long term ambitions for the White House than to Trump’s 2016 bid. Elephants have long memories, and audiences are not enthused by negativity, Mr. Cruz should remember. Perhaps following Aristotle’s epideictic type speech would have served Mr. Cruz better in the long term, rather than using a forensic speech to enact on Trump his revenge for losing his own nomination. Mr. Cruz should remember John Ford’s advice, “Revenge proves its own executioner”.