One common theme emerging from the post-GOP debate analysis is the focus on which candidates scored rhetorical points. Given that the debate is on some (superficial) level about delivering verbal punches, this makes sense. However, this focus is unhelpful and even distracting as it obscures the more important question: which candidate most forcefully demonstrated the ability to articulate substantive, meaningful positions in a memorable way. By that rubric, the clear answer is - no one.
As a matter of historical note, America's most beloved presidents also happen to be, in several cases, its most articulate. George Washington was known for speaking plainly, truthfully, and powerfully. Guided often by the pen of his trusted advisor and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, President Washington's words guided a young nation through innumerable crises, e.g. the Whiskey Rebellion, in its formative years, and in his farewell address set the model for executive branch leadership that has guided every president since.
Likewise America's sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln. The former Illinois river boat captain who became the savior of the nation uttered immortal truths that steered the ship of state through its darkest hour. The Gettysburg address, and the wartime correspondence he penned to grieving families of fallen Union soldiers, are rightly still invoked over a century later to commemorate Lincoln's leadership during the country's gravest constitutional crisis.
Today that energy is lacking, and the GOP field offers little hope that this situation will change any time soon. If one of the candidates has the capacity for this type of greatness, one that Americans demand, respect, and, most importantly, will vote for, now is the time to show it. Each of these examples demonstrates a very common and critical sequence: conviction drives rhetoric, which drives policy, which drives progress at crucial moments. None of these things can be assumed, and none is alone sufficient. The recent GOP presidential debates have underscored the unfortunate absence of this kind of rhetorical stature.
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