WASHINGTON — Tradition suggests it's time for Donald Trump to set aside the say-anything speaking style and rise to the inaugural moment.

But bucking tradition, or ignoring it altogether, is what got Donald Trump to his inaugural moment.

When Trump stands on the west front of the Capitol on Friday and delivers his inaugural address, all sides will be waiting to see whether he comes bearing a unifying message for a divided nation or decides to play up his persona as a disrupter of the established order.

How Trump tends to that balancing act, in both style and content, will be a telling launch for his presidency.

"The inaugural is an address that is meant for the ages," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "In particular, it's important when you've had a divisive election. You need to become president of all of the people, including those who vehemently opposed your election."

Trump seems to get that.

He's spoken admiringly in recent weeks about the speeches of past presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, and is said to be deeply involved in preparing his address. He's expected to deliver a personal speech, while returning to some of the big themes of his campaign, including a deep love of country.

Trump told Fox on Tuesday that he'll start his address with words of thanks to "everybody," including President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, for being "so gracious."

The president-elect showed he can deliver a straight-forward, prepared address at the Republican convention, where he largely stuck to a script and shut down anti-Hillary Clinton chants of "lock her up" from the crowd of GOP loyalists.

But that address was strikingly dark in tone, sketching a portrait of an America in crisis, and he later embraced that chant from supporters at his freewheeling campaign rallies.

The inaugural address, by contrast, needs to be "an inherently aspirational speech," said Michael Gerson, who wrote speeches for President George W. Bush and is a frequent Trump critic. "It has to be about the future and about your vision."

Veteran speechwriters have plenty of other advice for Trump and his chief wordsmith, Stephen Miller. Keep it short. Don't overdo the gravitas. Don't gloat, the victory tour is over. No deviations from script.

Oh, and don't undo a successful inaugural address with an intemperate tweet — or two or three — a few hours later.

While Trump used his victory speech on Election Night to sound a call to "come together as one united people," his tweets since then have featured name calling, score settling and petulance.

Wayne Fields, a Washington University expert on presidential rhetoric, said Trump is in an awkward situation, going into his inaugural address as a man who seems to regard precise language with contempt "rather than respect."

After all, this is a candidate who reveled in taking juvenile potshots during the campaign, labeling his rivals "stupid," ''dumb" and "bad."

"I know words," he declared at one rally. "I have the best words. But there's no better word than stupid, right?"

Even if Trump delivers a statesmanlike speech that hits all the right notes, Fields says, "nobody would know how to receive it or who it was coming from or how seriously to take it. It's a huge challenge."

Any reframing of Trump's tone for the presidency — if he wanted to do that — would require a consistent, longer-term shift, Fields said.

Trump does go into the speech with the benefit of low expectations: His off-the-cuff and often inflammatory style has long been a big part of his appeal. The soaring rhetoric of Obama, for example, simply wouldn't ring true.

"Because of the high level of attention and the low expectations, he's far more likely to exceed expectations," Jamieson said.

At the same time, Gerson cautions, Trump faces an extra hurdle in his inaugural address because he won the election by dividing the country.

"The method that he won creates the initial challenge of his presidency, which is to rally people broadly around his agenda and vision," he said.

Trump also knows his audience will include plenty of supporters who elected him to challenge the status quo. An address that doesn't offer any flavor of Trump-the-disruptor could disappoint those eager for a sea change in the ways of Washington.

Beyond Friday, there is the larger question of how Trump will adjust his speaking style over the next four years. His past pledges to "act more presidential" when the time is right are coming due.

"Any president is going to have to learn how to make use of good speeches," said Gerson, noting that presidents may have to speak at three public events in a given day. "That may be different from anything he's ever experienced before, because the campaign rewarded spontaneity and being extemporaneous. There are huge portions of the presidency where that can't be the case."

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/nbenac

(31) comments

marylandmirage

The United States will officially become the laughingstock of the world. Every country in the world is doubled over in laughter, with the possible exception of Russia, where they are celebrating. I guess they can't take a joke...

Burgessdr

His trademark is grabbing em by the P and mocking the disabled. Fine fellar he is indeed. Outstanding example of a leader. Our children should aspire to be like him.

armillary

Like any 70 year old man, Trump's done rising, he just watches and complains.

CDReid

Mr. Trump is not just like any 70 year old man. He's a billionaire who has founded over 500 businesses with over a 98% success rate and also who has just won a presidential election against all odds like no man has ever done before.

bosco

Trump has two chances to effect positive change - (1) the economy and (2) security in the form of fighting crime, addressing terrorism, and stopping and reversing illegal immigration.

DickD

Trump has had plenty of chances to act decent, he has failed almost every time.

threecents

Exactly! Billions of dollars gives you the ability to do so many good things. What good things has he done? No, making more money for himself and building monuments to himself do not count.

teapartier

No matter how and what President Trump say's in his speech, half the country will like it and the other half hate it. I wonder if he will use a phase from Abraham Lincoln's "house divided"speech "A house divided against itself cannot stand".

MAVRICKinc7

IF that's the case how do you equate Trump against this his national 40% favorable rating and the lowest in the last 100 years for a President-elect? You won the vote, so why play with numbers and pieces of our population as a bargaining chip while sustaining the fact YOU are a Republican operative and propagandist and will say and do anything to make your point of view?

Aren't WE as divided a nation as we were in 1860? So, how has our species advanced beyond it's original DNA, when we first made it out of our caves?

You may do a poor job at counting, assume more than really exist, or even flat out LIE, to make your points without facts, BUT history has recorded you as nothing more than a foregone Republican conclusion. What's it feel like to be judged a foregone conclusion?

teapartier

Nice to hear from the propaganda minister of the alt-left. Do YOU have any clue on polling methodology? Take a look at the recent wash post/ ABC poll. “ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 12 -15, 2017, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 31-23-37 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents”.

8% more Democrats than Republicans were surveyed(oversampling). Add the error margin + or – 3.5 %, You could have an 11.5%-point swing. Read their methodology standards below also the design effect. They go through a lot to get the result they want. And by your comment you might be right, you must have just emerged from a cave.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/PollVault/abc-news-polling-methodology-standards/story?id=145373

http://surveyanalysis.org/wiki/Design_Effects_and_Effective_Sample_Size

CDReid

So Mavrick, teapartier is an "operative and propagandist and will say and do anything to make [his] point of view?" Yeah, like you libs aren't, and don't. Riiiight....

public-redux

Hey, that's almost exactly what Mav said to me a week or so back. I don't feel so special anymore.

teapartier

Mav, has 5 "off the shelf" (not designed or made to order but taken from existing stock or supplies) comments, just by coincidence that we both received comment number 3.

bosco

Dang, I've never been polled. maybe I should start answering those phone calls that show up on my caller ID as "unknown" or "Las Vegas" I'll bet I could be included in some polls, as well as get my grandson out of a Mexican jail and help a Nigerian prince get his billions transferred to a U.S. bank.......Naw, I'll leave all that to the groundlings.[lol]

bosco

Good one, CD. The shoe is on the other foot now and all of the alt left liberals have their knickers in a twist. I wonder how many of them are really moving to Canada?

threecents

As Mav said, Trump's favorability rating is well under 50%. Of course Trump claimed that rating was faked... No matter what he says during his speech, it will not change the fact that a crazy person will soon control our armed forces.

CDReid

OK, so what do you have to say about the American public electing a "crazy person" that we didn't say about you people electing a liberal, Muslim socialist, twice? Mr. Trump will soon be your president. Don't like it? Feel free to join the exodus to Canada.

DickD

CD, you are just repeating Trump lies, when you call Obama a Muslim. And you left out the part about Obama being born in Kenya. We can try, but we will never out do the lies Republicans told about Obama and Hillary.

threecents

CD, Too cold in Canada. I was thinking Costa Rica, but I don't speak Spanish. Nah, I better stay here to help set people like you straight. But yah, when he finally does get inaugurated it will probably feel like a fresh kick in the groin.

hayduke2

Sure hope it is more coherent than his latest so-called press conference.

MAVRICKinc7

HOPE doesn't play a role in current thinking. Trump is a forgone conclusion and will remain so as long as he is in office.

DickD

Trump's problem is not knowing words, his problem is his desire to inflame the low educated supporters he has, the deplorables.

MAVRICKinc7

Isn't that how Hitler got started except for the fact he was a better speaker than Trump will ever be

threecents

Yes, Mav, it is, but I don't think Trump has designs on taking over the world or killing minorities - just scapegoating them. Of course Hitler did not have nuclear weapons...

CDReid

Oh gawd, you people use the words Fascist, Nazi, Hitler, and racist so often that you just don't realize that you loose all credibility when you do.

DickD

Yeah, we should aspire to be like you, CD, calling Obama a Muslim. [lol]

threecents

Thanks Dick.

jsklinelga

Curious. You seem to want to elevate your line of thought by positioning yourself as the wise and educated. Your comment reminded me of a somewhat heated( but friendly) conversation between four people last week. Myself and another were Trump supporters. I have a college degree plus. The other person also has a college degree. His son, also a Trump supporter, graduated from Harvard. Ironically, in regards to your remark, the two anti Trump people did not have the education. One quit high school when he was 16. Inflammatory speech and name calling is what help put us in the present situation.

CDReid

Good point. [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

DickD

Jim, please explain how someone as educated as you would vote for Trump. That is the question. I do not understand, you claim to be educated and allow yourself to be conned. One of my classmates went to Clarkson, got an engineering degree, became a Colonel in the Army and he supports Trump, not as you, but still makes the same mistake.

Comment deleted.
DickD

It will not be long before plenty of smart Republicans do too.

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