When viewers spotted uncanny similarities between Melania Trump’s Monday night speech at the Republican National Convention, and a Michelle Obama speech from 2008, Trump surrogates protested that Melania’s speech was “93 percent… completely different.”
The plagiarism is blatant enough to flunk the speech by middle school grading standards. But the Trump family has lifted more than just 7 percent of one speech. While his career path has veered from real estate personality to presumptive Republican nominee, one of Trump’s most constant trademarks has been a penchant for plagiarism.
His “Wealth-Creating Secrets”
In 2005, after his so-called “Trump University” folded under fraud allegations, The Donald launched Trump Institute, a similarly named series of questionable real estate courses promising to make students rich on Trump’s dubious “wealth-creating secrets.”
Trump Institute students say the wealth neither materialized—and neither did Trump’s allegedly personal investing secrets. A New York Times investigation found that at least 20 pages of the Trump Institute textbooks were lifted in near-entirety from a book in the “Real Estate Mastery System,” a 1995 series completely unaffiliated with Trump.
His “How-to-Vote” Guide
When Trump hit the campaign trail, the copy-paste trend followed him.
Trump’s official campaign site has hosted a number of local news articles reproduced without attribution. On its Idaho webpage, the campaign copied and pasted local radio station KBSX’s 2012 article on election law, removing the author’s name and renaming the story “REQUIREMENTS TO VOTE FOR TRUMP.”
Not only had the article been plagiarized, it was also advertised out-of-date voter information.
“Clearly we were not contacted by the Trump campaign for permission to use old content from our website,” Peter Morrill, KBSX’s general manager, told the Idaho Reports blog. “It’s a four-year-old story. Over the last four years, there have been changes to the election laws.”
The Trump campaign’s Arkansas, Ohio, Colorado, and Michigan websites also appeared to have lifted articles on voter registration directly from local news outlets.
Ben Carson’s Opinions
In March 2016, Trump published an op-ed in the Pacific News Daily, a Guam newspaper. But the text of the article appeared to borrow heavily from an op-ed Trump’s one-time rival Ben Carson had published in February. The op-eds are nearly identical in structure, with some sentences in Trump’s article appearing almost exactly as they appeared in Carson’s.
A Slogan With a Racist Past
In April, the Trump campaign began rolling out a new slogan: America First. “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” Trump announced in a foreign policy speech. Unfortunately, “America First” was already claimed in the 1940s, by an American nationalist movement, which—among anti-semitic and isolationist campaigns—encouraged the country to do business with Hitler.
Ronald Reagan’s Campaign
Even before Trump officially launched his presidential campaign, his preparations bore the unlicensed trademarks of plagiarism. On Nov 11, 2012, six days after President Obama won re-election, Trump filed to trademark the now-infamous campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” But “Make America Great Again” was a famous slogan in Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, “employed prominently in everything from buttons to posters to his acceptance speech at the Republican convention,” The Daily Beast’s Michael Daly writes.
Trump still takes full credit for the slogan, in March 2015 claiming that “the line of ‘Make America great again,’ the phrase, that was mine. I came up with it about a year ago, and I kept using it, and everybody’s now using it, they are all loving it.”
His Twitter Presence
But perhaps Trump’s most flagrant cases of copy-paste appear on Twitter, where he often copies text and images, sometimes from users with names like “WhiteGenocideTM.”
Last July the campaign came under fire for tweeting a picture of marching soldiers, overlaid with an American flag and Trump’s scowling profile. When Twitter users pointed out that the image of the soldiers was actually lifted from a stock photo of Nazi re-enactors, the Trump campaign blamed an intern for the tweet.
Even when responding to tragedy, Trump has struggled to generate his own emotions. Following the June mass-shooting in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, Trump tweeted “Reporting that Orlando shooter shouted ‘Allah hu Akbar!’ as he slaughtered clubgoers. 2nd man arrested in LA with rifles near Gay parade.”
But as CNN media reporter Brian Stelter observed, Trump’s remark was almost identical to an earlier tweet by author Sebastian Gorka. (“Reports coming in: Orlando shooter shouted ‘Allah hu Akbar!’ as he slaughtered clubgoers. 2nd man arrested in LA with rifles nr Gay parade.”)
And earlier this month, Trump landed in his biggest Twitter ripoff drama to date. On July 2, Trump tweeted a picture of Hillary against a background of money, next to a six-pointed star reading “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” The image bore a striking likeness to anti-Jewish propaganda—probably because the image originated from a racist Twitter user who frequently posted anti-semitic memes. (Trump did not credit the image’s original creator, or the racist forums where the image resurfaced in a thread celebrating the death of a noted Holocaust survivor.)
When Twitter turned on Trump for the Nazi-approved meme, The Donald fired back with a defense lifted straight from alt-right forums. “Where is the outrage for this Disney book? Is this the ‘Star of David’ also? Dishonest media!” Trump tweeted underneath a photo of a Frozen coloring book that featured a six-pointed star. An identical image had previously been making the rounds on Twitter and Reddit.
In defense of Melania Trump’s new plagiarism accusations, the Trump team has fallen back on citing unnamed “influences.”
“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,” Jason Miller, a Trump senior communications adviser, told the Guardian.
Trump, however, has never elaborated on his influencers, be they real estate textbooks, political rivals, or neo-Nazi message boards.