Obviously today everyone is talking and writing about Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech at last night’s Republican National Convention. I tend to agree with John Heilemann that the strangest thing about the theft is that it was of words uttered by Michelle Obama, wife of Donald J. Trump’s archnemesis. If Melania felt absolutely compelled to steal words, she might have looked to Nancy Reagan or Elizabeth Dole, Republican women the First Lady hopeful could have argued she greatly respected and wished to emulate.
So that was weird.
Though what is likely to have consequences of greater duration is the way the Trump campaign dealt with the flap. Did they choose to apologize, perhaps fire a low level speechwriter, and move on? Well, of course not.
They, through campaign honcho Paul Manafort, said there was no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech and that Melania was simply using common words to express common values.
As anyone who has taken the time to review the ubiquitous side-by-side video clips that have been put together by various news sources can attest, Manafort is blowing smoke.
Common words used in a specific order taken from others can and have placed a lot of people in front of a judge.
Manafort then threw in this nugget: “This is, once again, an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks to demean her and take her down.”
For the love of Pete, what does Hillary Clinton have to do with this episode? Nothing, of course, but for the fact that Manafort and the Trump campaign think they can appeal to women by suggesting Hillary Clinton is everywhere and at all times a menace to those of her own gender.
Odder still is that various campaign surrogates seem not to have received their marching orders, as Steve Benen points out.
While Manafort is trying to redefine plagiarism, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is recommending the campaign fire the relevant speechwriter, while New Jersey Governor Christie is saying it was only a little plagiarism, so no one should make a fuss.
Priebus and Chistie do know how the game is played and understand that taking responsibility for a screw-up is the first step to getting it out of the news cycle.
Instead, stories will continue about how unprofessional the Trump campaign is, how it reflects badly on his competence as a potential president, and how being unable to admit a relatively small mistake is not an admirable quality in anyone, particularly someone running for high office.
Donald J. Trump has run his campaign based on the premise that the truth is whatever he says it is. His attacks on the media have always been a part of this strategy, preparing the way to argue that whatever “they” say is intended to tear him down because he is in fact the only real truth-teller and, in any case, an outsider. If a candidate decides that lying about everything is the only way to succeed, it is necessary to attempt to discredit those who claim to specialize in fact-checking.
It’s a clever approach and has worked well so far.
Melania’s petty theft is not a huge issue for the Trump campaign, but a lot of people are laughing today at this man who takes himself oh-so-seriously. And that’s a bad day, especially when the whole world really is watching.
Voters can think many things of a candidate that may not adversely impact the chance for electoral success, but when they start to think he or she is a joke, things get harder.
Denying things when there is entertaining video evidence to prove one wrong is the stuff that late night comedy shows have been built on, a large part of John Stewart’s career, for example.
Trump is of course a silly little man who has no business running for the presidency. Maybe this episode will start to convince the broader public of that fact.