The State of the Union Is Trump’s Biggest Speech. Who Writes It?

WASHINGTON — There are two categories of speechwriters in Washington, but only one of them can survive for long in President Trump’s White House.

The first type — of which there are many bipartisan examples — is defined by those who have used the coveted role of presidential speechwriter as the jumping-off point for a lucrative career as a political commentator, and seem headed in that direction from the time they arrive at the White House.

The second category is personified by little-known aides like Vince Haley and Ross Worthington, the speechwriters who have assembled the State of the Union speech Mr. Trump will deliver Tuesday night with its theme of the “Great American Comeback,” and will give the president all the credit.

The annual address to Congress is an odd one in the Trump era because it is generally the only time of year that Mr. Trump consents to acting traditionally presidential, a performance that generally earns praise. Mr. Trump believes he is his own best communicator, so in his administration, the job of speechwriter is not a high-profile “Hemingway” role, as it was under his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who actually bestowed that nickname on one of his writers, Cody Keenan. The job belongs to the president.

“The president is a best-selling author and deeply gifted orator who packs arenas and has a meticulous and carefully honed method for writing his speeches,” Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said in a statement, “whether it be at a rally, a manufacturing plant opening or the State of the Union. What the American people hear is 100 percent President Trump’s own words.”

In this White House, writing his speech is a job best done anonymously, and by all accounts, Mr. Haley and Mr. Worthington understand that.

“They really have a deep feeling that the more anonymous they are, they’re probably better off,” Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and former boss of both men, said in an interview.

Mr. Haley, 53, and Mr. Worthington, 31, have worked under Stephen Miller, the president’s senior adviser, since the early days of the Trump presidency, adding historical sweep to Mr. Trump’s annual speeches and funneling ideas from across the administration into cohesive drafts.

For years, administration officials have declined requests by journalists to describe the speech-writing process, but, according to interviews with a half a dozen current and former administration officials, it is a process that more or less hews to tradition.

Several months ago, an email circulated through the administration, as it has in years past, asking everyone from policy advisers to cabinet officials to submit their top-line achievements and talking points for review. From their perch in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Mr. Haley and Mr. Worthington assembled the suggestions with input from other aides. Some of the larger planning meetings this year grew to 70 people or more.

For months Mr. Trump also passed along scraps of paper scribbled with sentences or themes he wanted included in the speech, and had those forwarded to his writers.

As this year’s draft began to take shape, Mr. Haley and Mr. Worthington received high-level edits from Mr. Miller, with occasional feedback from Anthony R. Dolan, the former chief speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan who works in the White House as an adviser for planning.

Mr. Dolan, who is not currently in a writing role, would not comment for this article. But he outlined the task decades ago.

“It’s a difficult, difficult speech to do,” Mr. Dolan told The New York Times in 1982, “because you have all the competing claims of the nation’s business, and at the same time, the stylistic demands of coherence and grace.”

The added demand of this administration, it seems, is to make sure the writer’s voice does not compete with Mr. Trump’s. Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, put himself on the president’s radar — not necessarily in a good way — by injecting fire-and-brimstone flourishes into Mr. Trump’s early speeches, including his notorious “American carnage” inaugural address.

“I think one of the lessons you’ve learned about personnel changes,” Mr. Gingrich said, “is that people who have their own personas soon have new jobs.”

Mr. Miller still has influence over the speech-writing process, but has been careful about exerting too much influence on the tone of the speeches, people close to the president say. It is easy to tell Mr. Miller’s contributions, two people familiar with the process said, because they sound closer to the bullet-list points he might make in an email.

The two other dedicated conservatives on the team try to give the speeches a sense of historical context while tapping into the forces that animate Mr. Trump.

Mr. Haley, a graduate of the College of William & Mary, spent a large part of his career with the production company run by Mr. Gingrich and his wife, Callista, and was a campaign manager for Mr. Gingrich’s presidential campaign in 2012.

In the past, he has sought to frame Mr. Trump’s speeches in the larger context of American history: His suggestion to shape Mr. Trump’s first joint address to Congress around the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence earned the president accolades.

Mr. Worthington has been a co-author of Mr. Gingrich’s, including on a 2013 book titled “Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate.”

In his own writing, Mr. Worthington seems on the same wavelength with Mr. Trump’s populist leanings and his anger at elite institutions. In one op-ed piece written for the conservative website The Federalist, Mr. Worthington denigrated liberalism on college campuses.

“And it turns out that for ideas the privilege police don’t like, we can never check our privilege enough,” Mr. Worthington wrote in 2014. “We’ll never express the thoughts in a way that no longer merits ad hominem appeals to our race, gender, or economic status. Don’t even try.”

Both men declined messages seeking comment on their work, nor did the White House make them available for comment. The White House also declined to say whether other aides on the payroll as speechwriters — Brittany Baldwin, a former speechwriter for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; William Gribbin, a former writer at the Heritage Foundation; and Theodore Royer, a former speechwriter for Rick Perry — helped craft the speech.

This year’s address, set to be delivered just as Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial is on the verge of wrapping up, will be the two men’s latest, and potentially last, attempt to shape a speech that has come to resemble a speed bump for a president not known for the appeals to bipartisanship that State of the Union speeches usually include.

A senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters at the White House on Friday that the speech would focus heavily on health care access, prescription drug costs, immigration policy, a so-called blue-collar boom and national security.

Mr. Trump is expected, at least for now, to compartmentalize his anger over impeachment and stick to calling for legislation that adheres to his administration’s policy goals. The hope among friends and advisers is that he will stay on message.

“The president does exceedingly well in this type of formal setting,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax and a friend of Mr. Trump’s. “And my guess is his message will be to showcase his results and then ask Democrats to join with him in passing more legislation, like they did with U.S.M.C.A.”

As in years past, Mr. Trump is expected to use the final hours before the speech preparing in the Map Room of the White House, editing drafts with his Sharpie, and speaking from a prompter to get a feeling for how the words might sound.

The senior official at the White House told reporters on Friday that “events always happen, and so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the speech to evolve before it’s delivered.”

Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, said Mr. Haley and Mr. Worthington are particularly good at scripting “the presidential version” of Mr. Trump, even under tight deadlines.

He described them as “pleasant and chill people” who have a “low resting heart rate” even as the mood inside the White House shifts quickly.

“Trump just wants to keep the pedal to the metal all the way: ‘We’re going 80 miles an hour,’” Mr. Domenech said of the president’s rhetorical style. But when Mr. Trump speaks, Mr. Domenech added, “it’s noticeable that there’s not some other voice in there, and that’s their strength.”

“That’s what I think should get more credit,” he said.

That, however, is unlikely.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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