Which Donald Trump will deliver the Republican presidential acceptance speech? The free-association, free-wheeling orator who packed stadiums and enthralled thousands never really sure where he might go next?
Or a more polished politician sticking to script – and using the teleprompters candidate Trump castigated other politicians others for using?
Delegates with front row seats to the speech on Thursday are hoping for Trumpian passion – at least, to a point.
“He’s such a loose cannon and that’s part of his appeal, but I’d like to see him less scary,” said Don Alexander, 51, a small business owner from Parsons, Kansas. “I want him to be free, but I want him to be smart.”
Alexander, who cycled through three other candidates before settling on Trump, said he hoped to hear a commitment to conservative ideals, as well as an appeal for a unified country.
He needs to keep his charisma. But be more tactful.
Don Alexander, 51, a small business owner from Parsons, Kansas
“He needs to keep his charisma,” Alexander said. “But be more tactful.”
Florida delegate Kay Ragan Durden is also looking for some restraint.
“I am looking for him to read the teleprompter and read what they tell him to say and not to get carried away, bless his heart,” said Durden, who worked for Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980.
But Durden, who initially supported Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, doesn’t want Trump to hold back when he talks about presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose email imbroglio and foreign policy record as Secretary of State has been the focus of most of the convention.
“I hope he will talk about the lies Hillary keeps telling. … I don’t care if she was the greatest person in the world,” Durden said. “I’m sorry you can’t make a mistake like that and then lie about it and then lie about lying about it.”
Convention acceptance speeches are aimed both at exciting the base and swaying yet-to-be-convinced voters watching on TV. But although Trump knocked out 16 other rivals on his improbable path to the Republican nomination, many Republicans remain deeply skeptical and wary that Trump can tone it down enough to appeal beyond his base.
“I hope he speaks intelligently about his misogyny and his lack of political correctness,” said Betty Vajdak, 58, a retired 911 operator from Temple, Texas, who backed Cruz. “We don’t approve of some of things he said, and the perception about the people who support him being ignorant. He needs to clarify those statements.”
And Rob Woodward, a 47-year-old Colorado delegate who was part of the effort to derail the Trump nomination, said Republicans like him need more assurances.
“It will need to be more than words,” he said.
Beyond nervous Republicans, the public wants Trump to “look a little more presidential without losing the words that he uses,” said Florida delegate Thelma Rohan, 70, who manages a physician’s office in Panama City.
“They want him to soften things a little bit without losing his passion. But it might be impossible for him to do that because he’s Donald Trump,” Rohan said. “He’s not used to softening anything unless if he has to.”
She believes if Trump could give more details to his solutions, doubters “would turn 180 degrees.”
She added, “right now what I am hearing from people is No. 1, he comes off as a little too blustery and they don’t believe his comments because he hasn’t presented any kind of solutions yet. I believe that he has got them.”
Maryland delegate Ben Marchi, 38, who owns a business providing health care to seniors, read Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” when he was 16 and supported Trump’s presidential bid from the start.
“I think the style that got him here will take him to Pennsylvania Avenue, and I hope that’s what we hear,” Marchi said. “I think it will be an unconventional convention speech. I want him to sock it to the liberals who have ruined this country.”
Trump has made several well-received speeches using a teleprompter in the past and is capable of delivering a disciplined, if restrained, speech.
The larger question is whether he can restrain himself from stepping on his message afterward, said Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who worked for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“At a time when we know that people believe the country is on the wrong track, at a time when people are very skeptical about Hillary Clinton, he has a chance to bring those voters in if he can put his candidacy forward,” Madden said.
“The larger question always remains: How long can he do that? Is it just in a speech? Or can he make sure that this is a message that he delivers in a very disciplined way all the way through to the November election.”
Trump is capable of having good moments, Madden said, “but he immediately generates controversy that distracts away from that core message that is potentially persuasive for a lot of voters who have yet to make up their mind.”
Soon after clinching the nomination, for example, he lost the chance to pivot to Clinton by engaging instead in a weeks-long controversy over the ethnicity of a federal judge overseeing a case against his-now defunct Trump University.
We are in that place in the election where there are 100 days left. Every day that you don’t draw those contrasts starkly is a missed opportunity.
GOP strategist Kevin Madden
“We are in that place in the election where there are 100 days left,” Madden said. “Every day that you don’t draw those contrasts starkly is a missed opportunity.”
Trump’s speech will be more structured, but will reflect the candidate’s personality, campaign manager Paul Manafort said.
“The speech will be him,” Manafort said this week at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast. “All of these prepared speeches he gives, in the end, the reason they’re working is because it’s him.”
Speechwriters who have worked on other presidential convention speeches have been working with the campaign’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, Manafort said.
Trump has reviewed previous presidential convention speeches and found the speech Richard Nixon delivered at the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach to be relevant to today, Manafort said.
Anti-war fervor was beginning to peak and would erupt weeks later at the Democratic convention. Many white Southern voters, angry at the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights, were looking to the Republican party and Nixon wooed them with tough talk and his choice of a running mate.
“When the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness, when a nation that has been known for a century for equality of opportunity is torn by unprecedented racial violence,” Nixon said. “And when the president of the United States cannot travel abroad or to any major city at home without fear of a hostile demonstration – then it’s time for new leadership for the United States of America.”
David Goldstein of the McClatchy Bureau contributed to this report.