Obama’s Teleprompter Has, Ridiculously, Become A Republican Campaign Issue

Barack Obama uses a teleprompter. This is not a big deal.

The silliest thing coming from the Republican candidates for President right now concerns the old, tired story of the President’s use of teleprompters:

It’s one of the very symbols of the presidency — the ultimate accessory to the ultimate bully pulpit, seemingly trumpeting to all that the words being uttered actually matter.

So why, on the campaign trail, has the teleprompter instead become a symbol of ineptitude, mocked repeatedly by Republican candidates?

Picking up on a theme that has been rippling through GOP circles for two years, Republican presidential candidates are trying to use President Obama’s reliance on teleprompters to deflate one of his biggest strengths — his oratorical skill. If Obama can’t give a two-minute speech without a screen telling him what to say, the critique goes, it’s a sign that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and can’t be trusted to do his job.

“Obama ruined the teleprompter for the rest of the politicians,” said Fred Davis, a media strategist who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in his 2008 presidential run and, until this summer, Republican candidate and former ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr.

“If you use it now, you’re like Obama,” Davis said. “It’s a negative because it’s a sign of inauthenticity. It’s a sign that you can’t speak on your own two feet. It’s a sign that you have handlers behind you telling you what to say.”

Since its invention a half­century ago, the teleprompter has been used by presidents and presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, seeking precision and accuracy in their speeches. But this year, the Republican hopefuls are generally just winging it.

Michele Bachmann says she will never use a teleprompter and often proclaims that if she makes it to the White House, she’ll ban them. Businessman Herman Cain joked last week that he threw the teleprompter off his campaign bus to “get rid of some dead weight.” And when Mitt Romney wrapped up a town hall meeting in Florida this month, a woman approached him and observed: “You did all of this without a teleprompter. Good job!”

“You didn’t see the teleprompter?” Romney replied. “It’s in my watch, actually. I just look down.”

From a politician sometimes ridiculed as robotic that qualified as a joke.

But Romney and the other candidates do still roll out the teleprompters for certain occasions, such as when the former Massachusetts governor recently delivered a major speech on foreign affairs at the Citadel. And sometimes candidates can be seen looking down at notes.

When Obama launched his campaign in 2007, he used teleprompters. He frequently addressed audiences off the cuff but almost always delivered the big speeches of his campaign from teleprompters — at the time making him appear more presidential, if voters noticed at all.

But now, Obama’s speechmaking is constant fodder for conservative radio, cable news and Internet outlets. On Tuesday, after someone took a truck in Virginia containing some of the most symbolic objects of the presidency, including the lectern and seal, it was the teleprompter that the conservative Web site Drudge Report zeroed in on: “SPEECHLESS: OBAMA’S TELEPROMPTER STOLEN!”

It’s all very funny, or at least it was two years ago when it was a new phenomenon and even The New York Times was taking note of the new President’s seeming reliance on teleprompters for even the most mundane of prepared remarks. That was two years ago, though, now, it’s just become ridiculous and stupid.

Yes, the President uses telepompters. Ronald Reagan used teleprompters. Mitt Romney and other Presidential candidates have used teleprompters for their major policy speeches. A teleprompter is a tool, and there are reasons why one might want a President to use it:

There are clear benefits to using teleprompters. Speakers can deliver speeches just as they and their brain trust envision them. And they allow them to appear to be talking eye to eye with their audiences.

There’s a practical rationale as well. Presidents often give multiple speeches a day, covering a variety of subjects — a far tougher feat to pull off without a teleprompter than a candidate’s delivery of the same speech a couple of times a day.

Teleprompters also protect a president whose every word is picked over, shielding him from inadvertently making a diplomatic faux pas.

“It’s not that Obama’s not smart enough to be able to give a really good speech from outlined notes,” said Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian who was a White House aide to

, one of the first presidents to use a teleprompter.

“It’s one thing for a presidential candidate to say something stupid and cable news goes through it for a couple days,” she said. “But if a president says something that is not what he meant to say, it could be an international incident.”

That point is well-taken. More importantly, though, what’s the big deal about the fact that a President hasn’t memorized every word of an important speech? When, exactly, did this become a job requirement? If a President suddenly decided to ditch teleprompters for, say, the State of the Union Address, the story the next day would be about how badly they came across on television because they kept looking down at their notes rather than maintaining eye contact with the audience and the television cameras. To the extent you’re worried about a Presidents ability to communicate, isn’t it better that they’re actually communicating rather than reading off a sheaf of notecards?

In reality, of course, the whole teleprompter meme is just another example of partisan hackery. It’s the step-child of those on the left who maintained the meme that President Reagan was stupid, when in reality they were merely picking the man apart because they disagreed with his politics.  There are plenty of legitimate things to disagree with Barack Obama about, and plenty of things he’s done in the past three years to be upset about. The fact that he uses teleprompters isn’t one of them.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CB says:

    i think this is whats called chootspah. or something like that.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    You gotta work with what you have…and this kind of BS is all they have.
    As for;

    “…those on the left who maintained the meme that President Reagan was stupid…”

    The guy was suffering from alzheimer’s. Stupid isn’t accurate…but it ain’t wrong.

  3. CB says:

    oh, and…

    When, exactly, did this become a job requirement?

    january 20th, 2009. 12pm.

  4. ponce says:

    The teleprompter “issue” is just another sign of how desperate the Republicans are about having to face Obama with any of the suppurating morons currently vying for their nomination.

  5. Nikki says:

    It’s all very funny, or at least it was two years ago

    Uh…no, it wasn’t funny even then.

  6. Moosebreath says:

    And of course in the part of the campaign where a teleprompter cannot be used (debates), Obama did excellently.

    The concept that Obama’s speaking abilities are limited to a teleprompter are part of the same piece of the occasionally heard comments he took advantage of affirmative action and that his books were ghostwritten. The concept that Obama is an intelligent, capable person who succeeded on his own merits is anathema to the wingnuts.

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’s not surprising this sort of thing strikes a nerve with the Internet left.

    When an affirmative action hire of a candidate proves to be so numbingly incompetent he can’t order dinner without a teleprompter the inherent ironic humor of that scenario completely will be lost on the hypersensitive and the intellectually dishonest.

    There’s also the connection here with the soft bigotry of low expectations so prevalent on the left. Liberals don’t like to see Obama mocked and made fun of because deep down below their facades they themselves have very low opinions of the man. They think he needs their help; being black and such. A forensic psychiatrist would have a much better grip on the underlying sociopathology, but in laymen’s terms it’s simply a case of projection.

    In any event, as far as Obama’s teleprompter goes I for one am an equal opportunity political heckler. If Bush or Reagan needed teleprompters to say good morning to their staffs I would have made fun of them. I would’ve said something like: “These guys are so dumb the red on their necks is made from crayon,” or something along those lines. Who wouldn’t have?

    Dark humor is the best sort of humor. Check out some of the political cartoons from the days of Madison and Jefferson. Biting satire directed against politicians is a hallmark of the American political experience.

    Lastly, if we can’t be satirical about our political leaders and their foibles — especially in times such as these — the only alternative is to cry.

  8. ponce says:
  9. MBunge says:

    “the whole teleprompter meme is just another example of partisan hackery.”

    No, it’s an example of the President being blackity-black-black-black. There is no other subtext to GOP teleprompter obsession than “See! That n****r ain’t so smart!”

    Now, there could be another subtext to it. It could be about how Obama is fussy and overly concerned with always being the coolest, smoothest cat in the room. But it’s not.


  10. Hey Norm says:

    @ Tsar Nick….
    I wonder if Ghadafi is thinking that Obama is

    “numbingly incompetent”

    right about now? Maybe that phrase doesn’t mean what you think it means.
    The guy that beat the biggest brand in progresive politics, arguably in all of politics, to become President…passed Health Care Reform which Presidents from both parties had been trying and failing to do for 50 years…and killed OBL, which Bush/Cheney tried to do and failed…is incompetent. Sure he is.

  11. mantis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    When an affirmative action hire of a candidate

    Black guy got elected! Affirmative action!

    Go back to Stormfront, scumbag.

  12. CB says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    dude, you need new material.

  13. Curtis says:

    The House Republicans invited Obama to their retreat about a year and a half ago, if I remember correctly, and it was basically embarrassing how easily he fileted their arguments with no prepared notes, no teleprompter, nothing. The House Republicans invited the cameras in so they could be seen tearing apart the president, only to be schooled and humiliated.

    Similarly, they had an enormous conference on health care reform with all of the committee chairmen and Obama, Biden, and Sebelius there. And for four hours, with the cameras rolling, he showed himself to be in complete command of every detail imaginable.

    This is just complete an utter nonsense. To me, it is nothing but an appealling to id. And it is a major mistake. If you can frame the perception of someone unknown, maybe you can tilt the way any little misstatement is perceived, the way during the 2000 election, Bush was perceived to be dumb and Gore an exaggerator. But Obama is a known commodity now; he has been in the spotlight basically every day for five years. If you tell me the food is bad at a restaurant I’ve never been to, it could very well color my perception of it and I might never go, or go looking for all sorts of flaws. But if you tell me a restaurant I love and have gone to dozens of times is bad, I don’t question the restaurant, I question your judgment.

    This, it seems to me, is a case of DM questioning their judgment. I don’t think he will be alone in that. It may play well with most that already agree with you, but you will harm yourself with anyone who doesn’t.

  14. Restless says:

    “affirmative action hire”
    I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Christ, I need a Republican phrasebook; I’m equally puzzled as to why words like “Kenyan” and “usurper” come up as well when this President is being discussed. Surely there must be a reason!

  15. MM says:


    : “affirmative action hire”
    I have no idea what this is supposed to mean.


  16. Scott F. says:


    Exactly. Tsar Nicholas’ characterization of Obama says a great deal more about TN than Obama. We’ve got lots of empirical evidence of Obama’s capabilities versus the on-line rantings of a pseudonymous nobody.

    Which is to be mocked? It’s a mystery.

  17. Nikki says:

    The President is an “affirmative action hire”? Then he’s proof-positive that affirmative action works, isn’t he?

  18. Curtis says:

    Thanks, Scott.

    Though I wasn’t really responding to Tsar Nicholas, as that would be a waste of time. Your categorization seems quite accurate.

    The best example, I think, is Mama Grizzly herself. She was a complete newcomer making all sorts of personal characterizations of someone who we had grown to know after a couple of years in the spotlight. And while her team agreed, independents turned on her completely because the wild accusations struck them as coming from an alternate universe.

    The problem is even greater now. He has been president for three years, and if they want to call him unpatriotic or willing to put the country in danger, he can point to the pelts of Bin Laden and Ghadifi on the wall. The accuser sounds like he is from another reality.

    Romney’s formulation in the debates has been by far the most effective, I think. He says roughly that the president is a good man in over is head with no clue how to get us out of our problems. I don’t agree with that. But I respect it a heck of a lot more than the Kenyan anti-colonialist nonsense, or the teleprompter slur, or the other lazy hackery infesting our airways.

  19. MBunge says:

    @Curtis: “Romney’s formulation in the debates has been by far the most effective”

    His economic argument has been the most fair-minded any Republican has made in the last 3 years. Now, if Romney’s foreign policy arguments didn’t boil down to “Neocon now! Neocon forever!”


  20. sam says:

    You know there’s a consistency with these guys. Just the other day, superdestroyer called Cain an affirmative action something or other. Jesus. What’s a brother gonna do? Can’t even join the Republican party — and lead in the polls…

  21. Fiona says:

    Affirmative action? Is Tsar Nicholas referring to our previous president who got into Yale only because he was a legacy “scholar?” You know, affirmative action for the kids of rich white people.

    As for the soft bigotry of low expectations, Bush II was a big beneficiary as was the Diva Palin in the last election. If they could make it through a debate without saying something too stupid, the media bent over backwards to note how well they’d done.

    Obama, however, is black, which means he’s pretty much got to do things twice as well as any white person to get the same level of respect.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    It is little wonder that the racism charge is leveled against and sticks to conservatives like Tsar Nicholas when we see such people pushing such horse$hit…

  23. bains says:

    Doug, after noting that you link the same paper that has run two hatchet jobs (one utterly insignificant and one entirely wrong) on two prominent Republicans in the past two weeks, almost all of what the WaPost considers “source” material proving their headline, there is only one valid quote from a peripheral GOP person in which TOTUS is a serious issue – in all others, TOTUS is the punch-line, one that were Johnny Carson delivering would be accompanied by a brief snare drum roll and top-hat smash.

    It is funny because so many people have made so much hay out of how exceptional Obama’s oratorical skills are, and yet, there are so many examples of how inept he can be when speaking extemporaneously. And after 8 years of having the left and the media (I repeat myself) belittling GW Bush as an idiot because of his general impromptu speaking deficiencies, the right is now reclaiming that pound of humorous flesh.

    That you object to this form of humor, seems to me, is more a reflection of your own political proclivities than anything else.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    Shorter bains: Doug, you’re nothing more than a hypocritical lefty…

  25. concreteblue says:

    @bains: So flush Rimjob and Sean Vannity’s (among others) constant harping on Obama’s unexceptional use of a common every day piece of technology is now “humor”? REALly???

  26. bains says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Shorter bains: Doug, you’re nothing more than a hypocritical lefty…

    Real short bains: Doug, you are inconsistent.

    @an Interested party… you are pitch perfect

  27. An Interested Party says:

    @an Interested party… you are pitch perfect

    As are you with your silly “the left and the media are the same”…

  28. Ben Wolf says:

    The Tea Party is now asking businesses not to hire anyone. Three guesses as to why:


  29. Eric says:

    I agree with Mr. Mataconis that Republicans use this attack because it plays into the larger argument that Obama is an idiot (or inexperienced) and just parroting lines that somebody else (ACORN?) wrote for him. But to me, the teleprompter attack also is consistent with Karl Rove’s basic attack theory — find your opponent’s biggest positive and try to turn it into a negative (see, e.g, Kerry’s military experience). Obama’s a great, electrifying public speaker? Nah, the Republicans say, he’s just good because he uses a teleprompter. It’s practically cheating. Plus, they used to say, isn’t there something scary about how responsive his audiences are? It’s almost like a Nazi rally….

  30. superdestroyer says:


    Why did you repeat the old and disproved meme that blacks have to work twice as hard. When the University of Michigan was sued for discrimination, the court learned that being black was worth more than 200 points (or equivalent) on the SAT, GRE, and LSAT tests. Also, blacks fail to pass the bar exams, medical licensing exams, and professional certification exams more than whites and Asians. If blacks were working twice as hard and were not advanced into positions that whites with similar qualification would get, they would be passing the bar exam or medical licensing exams are a lower rate than whites, not a higher rate.

    When blacks are passing the bar exam are the same rate as whites and Asians, then everyone will now that discrimination is academics has ended.