I feel for Melania Trump. She was poised and beautiful in delivering her Monday night speech in support of her husband’s presidential aspirations. And then her Biden moment — it was found out, as it inevitably would have been — that part of her speech was taken, nearly verbatim, from a 2008 speech given by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Let’s start with a few highlights:
Mrs. Trump emphasized Donald’s business success: “My husband’s experience exemplifies growth and the successful passage of opportunity to the next generation. His success indicates inclusion rather than division. My husband offers a new direction, welcoming change, prosperity and greater cooperation among peoples and nations.” One might quibble over whether Trump’s rhetoric thus far suggests greater cooperation among nations, but there’s no doubt that he offers a new direction from the last devastating seven and a half years.
She said that “Donald intends to represent all the people, not just some of the people. That includes Christians and Jews and Muslims, it includes Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians, and the poor and the middle class.” Hillary Clinton on the other hand is a prisoner, albeit in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way, of identity politics. On day she represents one aggrieved group, the next day another, and never a truly United States.
And one sentence that I particularly appreciated: “On July 28th, 2006, I was very proud to become a citizen of the United States — the greatest privilege on planet Earth.” Compare that to Michelle Obama’s reprehensible statement following her husband’s securing the Democratic nomination in 2008 that “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” The contrast says everything you need to know about the change that so many Americans hope to achieve through this election.
But then there’s the part of the speech that everyone’s talking about:
“From a young age my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Compare this, as countless others have in the past 36 hours, to Michelle Obama’s words in 2008:
“And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Some in the media are focusing on this as if it somehow tarnishes Mrs. Trump, but they’re wrong. It does, however, tarnish the Trump campaign showing yet another “not ready for prime time” moment, as did Trump’s appearance on Fox News’ “The Factor” on Monday evening, causing that network to miss airing the incredibly moving remarks of Patricia Smith, mother of Sean Smith who perished in Benghazi.
It is more than unlikely that Melania herself cribbed the words of Michelle. Instead, a lazy staffer somehow thought he or she could save a few minutes of writing words on those basic themes and instead simply copy the words of one of the most famous women on earth — during the Internet age when Michelle’s speech can be found in about 10 seconds and when there are websites dedicated to comparing text to other text to sniff out plagiarism. It was an error that was beyond stupid.
But even that isn’t the reason this is a big story — and it is, despite many saying the pilfered words represent the proverbial molehill.
The issue is the campaign’s reaction.
Campaign chairman Paul “I’m hoping to be an extra in Godfather Part IV” Manafort reacted to the discovery by saying “There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values.” He added that the plagiarism story represented “an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks out to demean her and take her down.” Both statements were such obvious lies and misdirection that even Trump supporters must have been cringing.
CNN reported Tuesday that “Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has no plans to fire anybody on the campaign or to take any disciplinary action against anyone for the Melania Trump speech plagiarism controversy.”
I’ll bet you a beer that that changes within 48 hours, if not within 12. Somebody made Melania look bad and if there’s one thing that seems certain about Donald Trump it is his intense loyalty to his family.
It is also something of a test between management judgment and the admirable trait of loyalty which, to give one example, kept Mr. Trump from firing Corey Lewandowski for much too long. This should be a much easier decision, even if it makes Manafort look bad, because the victim here was Trump’s wife and because what was done to her was not just a slight miscalculation but the sort of error that a middle-schooler wouldn’t make.
Paul Manafort seems to think that he can make the story go away by refusing to speak about it anymore. He’s wrong, not least because the media’s desire to help Hillary Clinton will keep them focused here for as long as possible.
The only way out of this story is really the right way out. Instead of putting up a wall to defend the indefensible, find the perpetrator and fire him (or her). And let it be known that the campaign and any subsequent Trump administration will adhere to the highest standards of professional ethics. Given the debacle that is the Hillary Clinton tenure at the State Department, such an action also serves as a useful contrast to the reprobate Democratic nominee.
Melania Trump’s opening night speech at the RNC was everything it needed to be. This plagiarism mini-scandal threatens to derail media coverage of much of the convention unless Donald Trump does the right thing — both ethically and politically — and tells Paul Manafort to stop acting the mafia henchman part he dresses for, protecting his “made man” inside the campaign regardless of that person’s misdeeds.
A head needs to roll.
In the meantime, a good woman is paying the price.