President-elect Donald Trump is working on the first draft of his inaugural address with top aides, his incoming press secretary said Thursday.
Sean Spicer told reporters on a daily transition conference call that Stephen Miller, Trump’s aide and speechwriter, is taking the lead on the speech, with key senior advisers Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus contributing as well. The group is expected to continue working on the speech at dinner Thursday night, Spicer said.
But according to the Washington Post, Trump — who has contributed such phrases as “big league,” “sad!” and “drain the swamp” to the political lexicon — told several visitors to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday that he is taking a crack at writing the first draft, drawing inspiration for the speech from Presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.
During a lunchtime visit to a table that included presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson, Democratic lobbyist Thomas Quinn and Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy, Trump reportedly expressed his admiration for Reagan’s “style” and JFK’s famous 1962 speech setting the goal of reaching the moon.
“He went on and on about Reagan and how much he admires him,” a person “familiar with Trump’s comments” told the Post. “But it wasn’t all about Reagan. He spoke about Kennedy and how he was able to get the country motivated, to go to the moon. He’s thinking about both men as he starts to write the speech, which is something he’s now taking the lead on.”
After their discussion, Brinkley told reporters outside Mar-a-Lago that Trump “was very interested in a man going to the moon and the moon shot, so we were talking a little bit about that.”
Brinkley said they also discussed a “sort of history of the presidency and past inaugurals” and “the way other inaugurations have been.”
“We talked about JFK and Reagan and about how William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia after giving too long of an inaugural speech,” Brinkley told the Post.
“He doesn’t want it to be long,” Brinkley said on CNN. “He would like it to be a shorter one. He doesn’t want people standing out in the cold.”
During his campaign, Trump became known for delivering off-the-cuff speeches at his freewheeling rallies, particularly during the Republican primary. But during the general election, he frequently used a teleprompter — part of an effort by his GOP advisers to keep him on message.
Reagan was the last president not to use a teleprompter for an inaugural address.
According to Brinkley, Trump was amused by an anecdote he shared about how before the advent of the microphone, attendees at presidential inaugurations would “whisper the speech through the crowd so that people in the back could know what was being said.”
Earlier this week, Politico reported that “early discussions” of the framework for his Jan. 20 address have focused on education, infrastructure, border security, the military and the economy.
“They will be talking about uniting America, bringing America together,” Boris Epshteyn, a spokesman for Trump’s inauguration committee, said Tuesday. “We are now in the post-politics, post-campaign season, and that’s the messaging around this inaugural.”
Most if not all presidents have used speechwriters to draft their inaugural remarks.
“When George Washington delivered the very first inaugural address, on April 30, 1789,” Slate notes, “he was reading from a reworked draft composed by his friend and frequent ghostwriter James Madison.”
Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address was constructed by Ted Sorensen, his longtime legislative aide and speechwriter, and included contributions from several people, including Kennedy himself. Sorensen, who died in 2010, would never reveal who wrote the speech’s most famous line — “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” — and destroyed the handwritten first draft at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy.
“I recognize that I have some obligation to history,” Sorensen said in the book “Sounding the Trumpet: The Making of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.” “But all these years I have tried to make clear that President Kennedy was the principal author of all his speeches and articles. If I say otherwise, that diminishes him, and I don’t want to diminish him.”
Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address was written by Ken Khachigian, his chief speechwriter. He recently told Politico that he had his first meeting with Reagan about the speech in mid-December and wrote a rough draft before the new year.
“It’s exciting. It’s stressful. It’s a high bar,” Khachigian said. “The most important thing is you don’t want to let the president down.”