We are in the midst of announce-o-rama, in which the candidates for president who are not Ted Cruz are lining up to make their announcements. Here’s a piece by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker in the Washington Post on the importance of getting it right.
Announcements are now apparently so important they even have trailers, like movies.
What’s interesting to me is that this is all new, or at least dramatically heightened. Announcements were always important but didn’t use to be such an event.
In the past, the speech itself and the venue were subject to care. They had to be done well and handsomely. The speech, especially, had to be good, making clear exactly how the candidate views the presidency and what he intends to do with it.
But they tended to be relatively modest affairs, not produced within an inch of their life. They weren’t seen as an opportunity for a show. They were more like something you had to do, and do appropriately, on the way to the campaign.
John F. Kennedy announced on Jan. 2, 1960, in the Senate Caucus Room. No balloons, no applause, no crowd, just him and his text. His elegant, stripped-down statement was short, 442 words, and its spareness suggested erudition—he didn’t have to go on and on, he was the author of “Profiles in Courage,” after all, and understood the nature of the position he sought: “The presidency is the most powerful office in the Free World. Through its leadership can come a more vital life for our people. In it are centered the hopes of the globe around us for freedom and a more secure life. For it is in the executive branch that the most crucial decisions of this century must be made.” Kennedy then took a few questions, which one senses were more or less planted in advance. Would he accept the vice presidency? he was immediately and conveniently asked. No, said the young senator, under no circumstances.
Bill Clinton had a crowd of a few hundred people in 1991 when he announced in front of the sun-dappled, columned façade of the Old State House Museum in Little Rock, Ark. It was a standard, pre-stump stump speech. It suggested, without being too on the nose about it, the need for a new and more moderate Democratic Party. Hillary wasn’t on the stage with him. It was just Bill Clinton and, to his right, a sign-language interpreter, who enthusiastically or politely applauded for the applause lines.
George H.W. Bush announced for the presidency on Oct. 12, 1987, in a big, blue-curtained room in Houston. The production was modest to the point of banal, but he stood with a warm tableau of family behind him. The purpose of his speech was to declare he understood more than most what the presidency is, having for seven years witnessed a great one up close. He had to make clear his independence, share his own plans and goals. He also had to quell persistent fears, especially but not only among Republicans, that he would raise taxes. “There are those who say we must balance the budget on the backs of the workers and raise taxes again. But they are wrong. I am not going to raise your taxes—period.” He asked for a “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” to make clear the limits on IRS power. He called for “prosperity with a purpose.”
Barack Obama’s Feb. 10, 2007, announcement in Springfield, Ill., was more important for him than for most candidates because he was relatively unknown. He had to be introduced to the American public in the right way. But even he had a fairly standard rally with a fairly standard (if large—a few thousand came) enthusiastic crowd. It was cold. He wore an overcoat. There was music (Bono), a podium with a seal (BarackObama.com) and two teleprompters. It was well-produced and shot from many angles. Central to Mr. Obama’s message: You may not know me, but I hail from the land of a man a lot of people didn’t know when he started. “And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together . . .”
Hillary Clinton made the first big change in how modern announcements are done. She announced in a living room on a comfortable floral couch. It was warmly lit, and she was beautifully made up and coiffed. It’s very relatable, and looks almost exactly like the famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch starring Kate McKinnon.
Will Mrs. Clinton announce that way this time? A guess: after last year’s “dead broke” interview with Diane Sawyer, and after the SNL sketch, she’s done with couches for a while. I would think she might choose to surprise with a speech to a highly enthusiastic crowd packed to the rafters in a not-very-big venue. A mixed crowd but a lot of young people up front, and a lot of homemade signs, banners and flags. Maybe she will be introduced to music. What music will it be? (Is Cold Play too big a cliché?) Will there be a podium? Will she walk the stage? Teleprompters? Will she make clear the higher rationale for her run, the things she hopes to do?
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An acceptance speech was always important, but now it’s more so. Everything about presidential politics has become more so the past few decades.
I think the one who took it to a real more-so level was Ted Cruz, in that bowl of cheering students, with no podium and no apparent notes, prowling the stage in dramatic lighting, and all of it live on cable and available for editing down into later commercials. That was one dramatic announcement, and it has forced everyone else to lift their game. And so this cycle Mr. Cruz has already made political history, if not especially helpful history to leagues of beleaguered advance men, staffers and media strategists.