The Republican convention……..Melania Trump’s excruciating blunder …..Jul 19th 2016….. BY J.A. Cleveland at The Economist ….
IT HAD been billed as the high point of the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland—a speech by Donald Trump’s beautiful, Slovenian-born wife, Melania, on July 18th, in which she was expected to paint the presumptive Republican candidate in a new and softer light. Mr Trump’s advisers have described that rebranding exercise as their big objective in Cleveland; Paul Manafort, the campaign’s manager, says the four-day coronation of Mr Trump as the Republican nominee will show a “very personal” side to him. Interviewed on her way to deliver the speech, Mrs Trump claimed to have written it herself, “with a [sic] little help as possible”.
She did not, in fact, say anything terribly new or personal about her husband. Introduced by the man himself—after Mr Trump, emerging from a light-filled backdrop, to the sound of “We Are the Champions”, had made a memorable first appearance at his coronation—Mrs Trump delivered a familiar panegyric. She praised her husband as an “amazing leader” whose “achievements speak for themselves”.
She offered no clue on how Mr Trump might differ in private from the thunderous braggart he has made for public consumption. Neither did she say anything to support his claim that she is one of his most astute political advisers. Mrs Trump offered instead an anodyne portrait of wifely devotion—with no acknowledgement of the potentially humanising strains or peculiarities inherent, it might be assumed, in her match to a difficult man a quarter of a century older than her.
In any event, her speech went down well with the Republican crowd. Mrs Trump is thought to be a nice person. And her speech was, at least, a pleasant change of tone from the noisy, ill-tempered events of earlier that day. The afternoon had been dominated by a row between the convention’s organisers and a group of delegates from Virginia and elsewhere, whose effort to register their dissent against Mr Trump had been ridden over roughshod.
The evening of speeches that followed was then filled with windy harangues against Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump’s presumptive Democratic rival, offered by an assortment of B-list actors—including Scott Baio, a television star of the 1980s—former soldiers and Rudy Giuliani. It was noisy, nasty and, with the exception of Mr Giuliani, who delivered a powerful, foam-flecked denunciation of Mrs Clinton, often low-grade speaking. Mrs Trump’s speech, by comparison, was at least peaceful.
But then things went badly wrong for her, her husband, and what is already shaping up to be a strange, modestly provisioned and poorly attended convention, from which most of the party’s luminaries are absent. Two passages of Mrs Trump’s speech, it emerged, had been lifted, more or less exactly in places, from Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic convention in 2008.
“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,” Mrs Obama said in a speech richly praised at the time by, among others, Mr Trump.
“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,” said Mrs Trump.
“And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation,” Mrs Obama’s speech continued. “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.”
Or as Mrs Trump put this: “That is a lesson I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lesson 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.”
Mrs Trump is not her husband. So her apparent plagiarism is not about to kill his campaign—as happened, for example, to Joe Biden’s fledgling presidential run in 1988, after he was shown to have unwittingly ripped off speeches by both Robert Kennedy and Neil Kinnock, the then leader of the British Labour Party. Yet Mrs Trump’s blunder is still worse than embarrassing.
It points to the inadequacy of Mr Trump’s campaign effort, which is lagging behind that of Mrs Clinton, his presumptive rival in November, in cash and organisation by any measure. Late last month, Mr Trump was trying to roll out a national campaign with less than a hundred employees; meanwhile, he sought to preserve the close-knit, deeply loyal and scattily amateurish spirit of the skeletal operation he constructed during the primaries. That one of his speechwriters appears to have ripped off Mrs Obama suggests he might wish to buck up that idea. That this error or idiocy was not picked up in the weeks-long editing process that followed is remarkable.
Worse, the scandal raises an obvious question about the straight-shooting honesty of Mr Trump’s campaign that is one of his main boasts. Plainly, Mrs Trump was trying to reinforce just that impression by claiming, falsely, to have written the speech herself. She now looks a phony, which makes Mr Trump look like a phony, too.
He would now seem to have two ways of dealing with the fallout. He could admit the error and fire the errant speechwriter. Or Mr Trump, who almost never admits to possessing any weakness, may choose to ignore the blunder and simply blame the media for making an unnecessary fuss. His spokesman, in a statement released shortly after the foul-up was noticed, suggested Mr Trump preferred the second path.
“In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking,” it ran. That contained at least an admission that Mrs Trump was wrong to have claimed authorship of the speech. But America’s media, long bullied and abused by Mr Trump, and now delighting in his embarrassment, are going to want to see more of a climb-down than that.
“Maybe [this is] the funniest fuck up in the history of political conventions,” tweeted the conservative commentator David Frum. It really was.