What Does It Mean When A Candidate Says He's 'Suspending The Campaign'? For this week's Words You'll Hear series, NPR's Michel Martin speaks with former presidential speechwriter Matt Latimer about the phrase — and other words we might hear from candidates soon.

What Does It Mean When A Candidate Says He's 'Suspending The Campaign'?

What Does It Mean When A Candidate Says He's 'Suspending The Campaign'?

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For this week's Words You'll Hear series, NPR's Michel Martin speaks with former presidential speechwriter Matt Latimer about the phrase — and other words we might hear from candidates soon.


Sticking with politics for a few more minutes, it's time now for our regular segment Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand stories we'll be hearing more about by parsing some of the words associated with those stories. Today, we're going to think more about the phrase suspending my campaign. You probably already heard those words this week.


MIKE HUCKABEE: Officially suspend the campaign.


MARTIN O'MALLEY: Suspending this presidential bid.


RAND PAUL: Today, I will suspend my campaign for the presidency.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Suspend - suspending your...

RICK SANTORUM: ...We are suspending our campaign as of this moment.

MARTIN: Those four presidential candidates - Mike Huckabee, Martin O'Malley, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum - all made announcements that they would be suspending their presidential bids following the Iowa caucuses. This coming week, after New Hampshire, you'll probably hear more. But you might be wondering why they don't just say they're dropping out. Well, here to tell us more about the art of wording one's way out of a presidential primary bid is Matt Latimer. He's a former speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush. He's a contributing editor at Politico, and he wrote a piece with them called "How To Drop Out Of The Presidential Race." And he was nice enough to stop by our Washington, D.C. studios to tell us more. Matt Latimer, thanks for coming.

MATT LATIMER: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So to start us off, suspending my campaign. What's that all about? Why don't they just say I'm out?

LATIMER: It's a wonderful phrase, isn't it? You really have to - never take responsibility, never have to admit you've quit or lost or the voters don't want you anymore.

MARTIN: But is there any legal reason to say this, or is it really just a weasel word?

LATIMER: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. I think it's a weasel word. But I also think that technically speaking, if you suspend your campaign, it gives you a chance to keep your delegates. And for financial reasons, if you want to retire your debt, you're technically suspending your campaign. But when you announce it, you don't have to say that. You could just say look, I'm leaving the race. I'm quitting.

MARTIN: You actually - you know, in your piece in Politico, you said that dropping out can actually be more important than entering the race.


MARTIN: Why is that?

LATIMER: Running for president, in a lot of ways, is a business now. It's kind of a stepping stone for other things. A lot of candidates run for president never really suspecting that they're actually going to win. But, you know, it's a great credential to have on your resume if you want to do a speaking tour or you want to get on some corporate board, or be a vice president or in the Cabinet. So how you get out is sometimes more important than how you get in.

MARTIN: Well, you give an example of Hillary Clinton's 2008 speech following the suspension of her campaign as both a signal of her prominent place within the Democratic Party as well as a message to then-candidate Obama.


HILLARY CLINTON: Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it's got about 18 million cracks in it.


MARTIN: So what was the message that you were flagging in that speech?

LATIMER: Well, I thought it was a brilliant speech if you're looking at running again or if you're looking at serving in the next administration because 18 million cracks - another way of looking at that is 18 million votes. And what she's saying is I had 18 million people supporting me, and that's an important voting bloc, Sen. Obama. And you might want to keep that in mind when you become president. And also, there's a strong base of supporters that I could use to run again.

MARTIN: You also say that there are times when you really feel like the candidates are speaking from the heart, (laughter) and not in a nice way. For example, there's Richard Nixon's really iconic concession speech from the 1962 California governor's race where he lashed out. Well, here it is.


RICHARD NIXON: As I leave you, just think how much you're going to be missing. You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

MARTIN: Was he being sarcastic, or was he really mad?

LATIMER: No, I think he really was mad. He had just lost a very narrow election to John F. Kennedy in 1960, and then he'd lost again in the governor's race two years later. His political career period, by any one standard, was absolutely over. He had two big defeats. I'm sure he didn't think he'd be president less than a decade later. I think it was a rare moment of just spontaneity that I actually think is - in some ways, it's kind of appealing from a person. But it was an outburst, and I'm sure he regretted saying it because it haunted him for many years after that.

MARTIN: Given all that, what is your advice from a speech-writing perspective?

LATIMER: My advice is pretty simple and probably obvious, but I don't think people will actually follow it in politics anymore. It's just be yourself. You know, Adlai Stevenson, when he lost his race against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, said something to the effect of, you know, I'm too old to cry, but it hurts too much to laugh. And people really admired that about him because it was a candid moment. He was being funny, self-deprecating and he was actually admitting to the people that it was painful to lose an election. And I think if you actually say something to that effect, I think people admire that. And I think this year, that's what voters are looking for, people who are - stop using these Washington words and this weaselly talk, and actually just say what they mean.

MARTIN: Matt Latimer is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He's a contributing editor at Politico. Matt Latimer, thanks for joining us.

LATIMER: Thanks so much for having me.

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