CLEVELAND — When I was in college, a friend of mine had a fraternity brother they nicknamed Can’t Get Right because, well, he couldn’t. I’m starting to think he works for the Trump campaign.
On an opening night at the Republican National Convention that had a few mostly short high points — as well as some low points that were long and in technical violation of the Geneva Conventions — one of the widely acclaimed performances came from Melania Trump. The would-be first lady has been a mostly quiet presence on the campaign trail, but she was given one of the best speaking slots Monday night. And her speech wasn’t just good for someone speaking in her second language; it was better than most people could deliver in those circumstances in their native tongue.
Or so we thought.
Before I even made it back to my hotel, reports were emerging that two paragraphs of her speech were almost word-for-word identical to a section of a speech by — wait for it — Michelle Obama. Here’s the comparison. First, from Mrs. Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention:
“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.”
And now, from Mrs. Trump’s speech Monday:
“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.”
I guess her defense will be that, unlike Mrs. Obama, she didn’t claim her husband also shared those values?
In the grand scheme of things, having some campaign aide (that’s almost certainly who’s responsible) cut and paste and barely edit a couple of paragraphs of a speech isn’t the end of the world — even if, as one Georgia delegate joked, they could have at least stolen from Nancy Reagan instead of a Democrat. Heck, the list of reasons to be wary of a Trump presidency gets extremely long before one arrives at “wife’s convention speech includes plagiarism.”
But that’s kind of the point: The list of examples of amateurism and wrong-headedness and fact deficiency and so on isn’t supposed to be so long for the campaign of a man who could actually become president of the United States. Setting aside things like philosophy and temperament, there’s a certain degree of professionalism we’re accustomed to seeing pretty consistently from the presidential campaigns of major-party nominees. We’re still not seeing it from Trump.
It doesn’t help his case that the apparent plagiarism was only one such unprofessional moment from Monday. There was the choice to put actor Scott Baio, whose only relevance to the 2016 campaign was that he was last seen on TV back when Trump thought America was still great, in the program during the early prime-time when the crowd was still fresh and energetic — and to consign up-and-coming Republican Sen. Joni Ernst to after 11 p.m., when the convention hall had long since been emptying out. There was the choice to put the emotional speech from Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith, one of the four Americans killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, on at the same time as Trump was phoning in an interview with Bill O’Reilly — meaning the many Republicans watching Fox News’ coverage of the convention missed her remarks live. There was the decision to let retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — who somehow was on Trump’s VP short list — drone on and on in a nearly 25-minute speech that followed Mrs. Trump’s appearance and killed off for good the excitement that had built in the building all evening. And all that was on top of the decision earlier in the day to steam-roll an attempt by some delegates to force a roll-call vote on the convention rules.
The high points of the evening — ex-Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s inspired remarks, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s full-throated endorsement of Trump and rousing denunciation of Hillary Clinton — will be largely consigned to footnotes. They probably won’t garner the TV attention on Tuesday morning’s news shows that they otherwise would have. Heck, they were already being forgotten by the delegates with whom I spoke after the news about Mrs. Trump’s borrowed remarks came out.
It all amounted to, as former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer said just about Trump’s O’Reilly appearance stepping on his own convention, campaign malpractice. In other words, they can’t get right.
Read all of the AJC’s coverage from Cleveland here.