TAMPA—As I noted earlier, the real stakes for Paul Ryan's speech tonight are pretty low. To paraphrase a different Republican, the political world might more than a little note but will still not long remember what he says tonight. It's possible of course that the speech could be a memorable flop but that seems unlikely as well, especially given the speechwriting team that Ryan has enlisted.
According to numerous reports, Ryan has enlisted the help of two of the top GOP speechwriters around, a pair of veterans of the George W. Bush administration, Matthew Scully and John McConnell.
Like Ryan, McConnell is a Wisconsin native. A Yale-educated lawyer, he was technically speechwriter for Dick Cheney (he was meeting with Cheney on September 11, 2001 when the planes hit the World Trade Center). Along with Scully and Michael Gerson, he formed the troika of Bush's first term speechwriters. (The three had met on Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.) As I wrote in White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, McConnell has
a square jaw and an unreconstructed earnestness that was not influenced by years in Washington. "I love the history of the [White House], and always have, all my life," McConnell said in 2006. "I feel so grateful to be a part of it. It's never lost the thrill for me. I've got a better view than the President—he doesn't get to look at the White House!" It was the kind of comment that would be written off as affected schmaltz coming from almost anyone else, but from John McConnell it was just true."
Scully later wrote of that when the language in Bush speeches is "graceful, judicious and understated, and makes you think about the subject at hand … there's a better-than-even chance that it is by John McConnell."
Scully, a Wyoming native who never graduated from college, is a unique figure in the party. McConnell called him "the best writer in the English language that I know of." A vegan who wrote a book making the conservative case for animal welfare, Scully has been called "the most interesting conservative you have never heard of," by George Will, who also called him "the mildest disturber of the peace [but] among the most disturbing." Mild wasn't the word used in 2007 when he wrote a scathing insider account of the Bush speechwriting operation blasting Gerson as a publicity hound and credit thief.
And Scully has some experience in his current role—he worked with Sarah Palin on her acceptance speech four years ago.
This time around, according to the New York Times, Scully and McConnell traveled with Ryan on the campaign trail to better capture his voice. And then a little over a week ago they came here to Tampa to hole up and work on the speech.