Showman or statesman? Floridians await Trump speech


When Donald Trump — billionaire developer, reality TV star, political outsider — steps on stage Thursday to accept the Republican presidential nomination, he might be delivering the most eagerly anticipated convention speech in decades.

More than any other presidential candidate in recent memory, the arc of Trump’s campaign has been dictated by what he says and the wandering stream of consciousness that has become his trademark on the stump. Trump entered the race suggesting that many Mexicans who immigrated to America illegally are rapists and criminals. He thrashed his GOP primary opponents verbally before beating them in state after state.

But when Trump has tried to deliver more conventional political speeches — working from a teleprompter and sticking to a script — he can come across as stiff or even wooden. And so the question hanging over the Cleveland convention at times seems to be: What side of Donald Trump will voters see Thursday night?

Conversations with Republicans from Florida brought about a variety of advice, often contradictory, about what Trump should say and how he should say it.

Some Florida officials and delegates visiting the Republican National Convention have said Trump shouldn’t try to break the mold that made him one of the most unlikely major-party nominees in American history.

“I’m hoping that he continues to just be himself,” said outgoing Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who is far more soft-spoken than Trump. “Every time somebody starts looking over their shoulder for political correctness, they kind of get boxed in. I really believe that he needs to continue to be who he is, and who got him to where he is right now.”

Others expect something a little more disciplined than Trump’s usual stump speeches and off-the-cuff interviews, which propelled him to the front of the GOP pack but also weakened his standing among independents and some Republicans.

The speech envisioned by Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who is also a state representative from Spring Hill, sounds decidedly unlike the majority of Trump’s addresses.

“I think what we’re going to see is a very statesmanlike speech,” Ingoglia said. “I think it’s going to be narrowly written to deliver a specific message. I personally don’t think that he’s going to go much off-script.”

Others are hoping for something in between. Kathleen King, chairwoman of the Manatee County Republican Party and a delegate at the convention, said she wanted a Trump that was both “authentic” and “presidential.”

King said Trump shouldn’t change his identity but should show more depth than the caricature of a blowhard businessman that has taken shape over the last year. She also hoped to hear more policy specifics from a candidate who has at times been vague.

“He’s clearly a showman, but I think that there’s more to Mr. Trump than we’ve seen,” King said. “We see the television Trump, we see what the media reports. … We know he’s successful that way, but I think there’s a lot more to the man.”

Many hope Trump speaks to the anger and anxiety that drove his own charge to the nomination and the run of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who waged a spirited fight against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

The nation is still emerging from the economic downturn eight years ago and grappling with a spate of terrorist attacks in Europe, Asia and the United States. At the same time, police officers have been shot and killed in response to anger over the deaths of African-Americans in police custody.

“We have seen these waves of threats, whether it’s, again, localized violence targeting the very fabric of law and order in our society, as well as this broader global sweep of terrorism,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. “And so the anxiety that is hovering over the electorate is palpable. And people are looking for a leader who can relieve that anxiety by defeating these threats to America.”

Crisafulli said he would like to see Trump focus on his time as a businessman and how he would bring that approach to bear in the White House.

Ingoglia suggested Trump weave those two messages together into one overarching message of security.

“I think the key issue here for Donald Trump is to get across a message of security. … It’s a message of job security, economic security and it’s also a message of national security,” he said.

Still, even Ingoglia said Trump should also focus on the outsider image that is in some ways the main reason Trump will be accepting the nomination.

“This election is a referendum on the status quo,” Ingoglia said, pointing out that Clinton has been in national politics since the 1990s. “The only one in this race that can change the status quo is going to be Donald Trump.”