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The Takeout: Obama, Bush speechwriters dissect Trump – and their own bosses

The Takeout
The Takeout 00:50

From a speechwriter’s perspective, President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday was not necessarily very groundbreaking. It was the person who delivered it that made the speech seem out of the ordinary.

“Donald Trump is an atypical politician, but it was a very typical political speech,” President Obama’s former chief speechwriter Cody Keenan told CBS News’ Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett on this week’s episode of “The Takeout” podcast.

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Keenan argued that Mr. Trump received such a positive reaction because “it was a very different setting for him. It’s a setting that doesn’t play to his strengths,” which is why Keenan thought it worked for Mr. Trump.

Trump's new tone? 04:14

Former President Bush speechwriter Jonathan Horn added that Mr. Trump “benefitted from giving what most years we would think is a very boring State of the Union. It was basically just a laundry list of proposals.
“But because we expected something much more unconventional from Donald Trump, it ended up making the ideas sound much more reasonable and presidential,” Horn said.
Keenan got a chuckle out of one line in Mr. Trump’s speech – one that wasn’t intended to be funny.
“It was when he said ‘years from now, even if this entire agenda comes true, we’ll look back on this night as when it all started,” Keenan said. “I laughed at that, not in a partisan way but purely as a speechwriter, because nobody remembers the State of the Union addresses. Ever.”
The two also told Garrett and CBS News Senior Political Editor Steve Chaggaris what it was like working for their respective bosses.
“It was always a challenge writing for President Obama because there was always a very high bar and you wanted to meet that bar,” Keenan said. “We’d pull all-nighters to get that first draft just right because you wanted to impress him.”
Horn suggested that people would be surprised to learn that “President Bush was an extremely tough editor.”
“I wish more people could have sat in the Oval Office and had President Bush edit them. He was the toughest editor I have ever had,” Horn said. “There was no getting away with anything. The speech really was President Bush’s speech by the end of the process.”
For more from Keenan and Horn’s conversation with Garrett and Chaggaris, including their proudest speechwriting moments and a discussion of some other presidents’ famous addresses, listen to “The Takeout” podcast, available on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher and And follow “The Takeout” on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @TakeoutPodcast.

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