Opinion

Melania Trump speech, spin a failure of ‘bigly’ proportion

Melania Trump and Michelle Obama convention speeches back-to-back

Donald Trump’s campaign chairman denies reports that Melania Trump lifted language from Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic National Convention speech for her 2016 Republican National Convention speech in Cleveland on Monday night. Reporters noted th
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Donald Trump’s campaign chairman denies reports that Melania Trump lifted language from Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic National Convention speech for her 2016 Republican National Convention speech in Cleveland on Monday night. Reporters noted th

The Donald Trump campaign is denying and downplaying any admission of plagiarism — or any mistake at all related to the fact that Melania Trump’s speech Monday at the Republican National Convention had nearly identical passages as one given by first lady Michelle Obama in 2008. But the pundits are not holding back ...

Never happened

If there’s anything more foolish than plagiarizing a political speech at a national convention, it’s pretending it didn’t happen and blaming others for pointing it out.

But that’s what the Trump campaign did early Tuesday after Melania Trump’s Monday night address at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

You could feel the city buzzing with the news, and then the horrid sound of the Trump campaign chairman smashing his skull on reality.

“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told CNN. “These were common words and values that she cares about —her family, things like that. I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”

Is he saying Melania didn’t lift Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention? It’s not only ridiculous, it’s stupid, and the Trump campaign is now the 8-year-old boy with chocolate cake all over his face, telling mom he didn’t have any snacks before dinner.

— John Kass, Chicago Tribune

Convention theme: Incompetence

While Melania Trump was speaking, I tweeted that she was giving a perfectly serviceable speech about someone who did not bear much resemblance to her husband. I was thinking of her description of him as a unifier governing in the best interests of all Americans, including Muslims, and her failure to tell a single story to illustrate his alleged virtues.

But it turns out that I was more correct than I realized: Part of Mrs. Trump’s speech was ripped off from one by Michelle Obama, and so the words she was using were originally written to describe Barack Obama.

Trump is campaigning less on a platform than on his own managerial excellence. He will hire the best people and make the best deals, he tells us. Melania Trump’s prime-time plagiarism undermines that story. It is another sign that he is not running a minimally competent campaign.

Controversy over the plagiarism, and the Trump campaign’s excuses for it and denials of it, have dominated coverage of the first stage of the Republican convention. That can’t be what the Trump campaign wanted. But then it’s a little hard to know what it wanted.

— Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View

Fails Google test of originality

On Tuesday morning, Trump supporters are offering the only defense they can: that these sentiments about the value of hard work are so anodyne that anyone could have uttered them, that they could have been original to both speakers because they weren’t particularly original thoughts to begin with.

That defense won’t stand. The similarities are simply too strong.

Writers know that it’s unlikely to hit on someone else’s words as closely as Melania Trump’s speech copied Michelle Obama’s. As my friend Terry Teachout once pointed out to me, highlighting as few as seven words of your own writing, and searching them in Google surrounded by quotation marks, to restrict the search to exact matches, is likely to produce exactly one hit: your work. And I’m not talking about elaborate sentences; I’m talking about boring fragments like “And I’m not talking about elaborate sentences.” That search returned no hits when I searched it Monday morning, and will return exactly one after this column is published.

Whoever wrote Melania Trump’s speech pretty clearly looked at Michelle Obama’s speech, changed a few words, and presented them as Melania’s own.

— Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View

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