Is Stephen Miller making policy decisions?  Who is Stephen Miller?

The answer to the second question is easier than the answer to the first.  Miller is from Santa Monica and, by whatever circuitous paths speechwriters’ careers take (and there are some weird ones), he is writing the President’s speeches.  At least, that’s the only source for Trump’s formal rhetoric that I could find.  Usually by this time, we know who’s writing the President’s speeches and where they come from.

At least, I do – I look for these things.

I spent some time researching it, and while there’s speculation about various members of his inner circle, particularly Bannon, contributing, as well as contentions that Trump writes some of it himself — that would account for the sloganeering, jingoism, and egotism – there’s no one but Steve who’s specifically identified as the pen behind the man.

Why can’t they write their own?

Over my many years as an executive speechwriter, I was often asked why the execs couldn’t do it themselves.  It’s partly time and partly competence.

Very few execs have the skills to fix on what they really want to say and then write a nice, flowing, interesting speech.  And in the rare cases where they can, they still don’t have the time, so they hire speechwriters who, they hope, will match their own level of competence.  But the ego is so big that even if the writer is good enough, the guy still rejects his stuff.  Personal experience.

Obama – a similar case.   He apparently thought he was his own best speechwriter.  Big mistake.

Speechwriter’s key function

But I digress.   One of the areas where the speechwriter saves the speaker vast amounts of time is in generating and assembling speech content.

Maybe the speaker knows what he/she wants to say, and the writer has only to fill it in and add a beginning and an ending.  Maybe the speaker has a few points, and the writer has to take it from there.  Maybe the message has to come from somewhere else in the organization, from people who know the audience and know what the speaker should say.

Now the writer has to seamlessly combine input from multiple sources and – let’s not forget – make it sound like the speaker.

Speechwriters and policy

The second question I would often be asked is, “Don’t speechwriters determine policy?”  Hell, no (except for the ceremonial speeches, which are fun to make up)!  If the speaker doesn’t know what he/she wants to say, somebody must, and it is the writer’s job to find that person (or group).

Not every speechwriter agrees with me. One of them, a master BSer, knew how to write only one kind of CEO speech: the alter-ego, where the speechwriter writes what the speaker should say, and the guy recites the lines written for him.   Peggy Noonan had that kind of relationship with Reagan.

I had a client who pretty much read what I wrote for him – except the annual speech to shareholders, which he worked on meticulously, being a finance guy.

But the difference is that my process was as authentic and fact-based as I could make it.  I didn’t just channel the CEO and wing it.  I did research and contacted the right people, to make sure the right thing was said.

Even worse than W

Back to Trump.  I thought Dubya was verbally inept (“I know how hard it is to put food on your family.”), but this guy is MUCH worse. He lacks the competence or attention span for anything like a speech, let alone the thought processes and attention to detail.  Preparation?  Hah!  Life is a reality show.

The man needs to be kept on a tight leash, which is impossible, since he’s the President.  I cringed when he stood before a wall memorializing CIA deaths and bragged to his CIA audience about the size of his crowds.

But at least they sometimes get him in front of a TelePrompTer to recite…what?   Is there ANY expert consultation, shaping of message, review of drafts, etc., on these major policy speeches?  What is the process, if any?  Where does the subject matter come from?  Does Rex Tillerson have any input on foreign-policy speeches?

Who’s the dummy?

Or does it all spring from the mind of Steve Miller and maybe one or two others?  Is Steve nothing less than Trump’s ventriloquist?  Is it Steve who’s really the President, and Trump’s just a blustering figurehead?

Even if you’re not a speechwriter, that’s scary.