CLEVELAND — In less than 48 hours, the Trump campaign offered six different excuses for Melania Trump’s Monday night remarks at the Republican convention, when she plagiarized Michelle Obama’s Democratic convention speech from eight years before.
The first five excuses were forms of denial, involving everyone from a fictional sparkle pony to Hillary Clinton. The sixth excuse, which came Wednesday afternoon from a little-known Trump Organization staffer, was an admission of guilt and an apology in what can only be described as the opposite of the Trump campaign style.
The fiasco, which has lasted two full news cycles and counting, is just the latest example of a campaign that seems stuck in its adolescence.
Months ago, with the hiring of Paul Manafort, an establishment veteran who’d worked for everyone from Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush, it seemed as if the Trump campaign was trying to grow up. The introduction of a Teleprompter to keep him on-topic and the decision to fire Corey Lewandowski, his novice campaign manager better known for his violent streak than his brainpower, confirmed this.
But the haphazard spinning (another word for “lying,” in D.C. parlance) about Melania’s speech indicates the campaign’s growth has stunted. Manafort is not the adult in the room his résumé suggests he is, and Trump remains too dense to get out of his own way and avoid the political malpractice of turning a minor mistake into a weeklong, national news story that distracts from his improbable nomination as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.
The official word from the Trump operation, at various points since Monday night, is that Melania wrote her speech, and she did not write her speech, and a team of writers wrote her speech, and her speech was not plagiarism, and if it was plagiarism, perhaps Michelle Obama had plagiarized My Little Pony, because the speech was full of common platitudes, and it was all Hillary Clinton’s fault, and Michelle Obama did not invent the English language, and OK, fine, it was plagiarism, but it was all a big mistake and no harm was meant by any of it.
It began at the reasonable hour of 1:48 a.m. Tuesday, a few hours after Melania spoke and it was revealed, by a Twitter user, that she had repeated the words of the First Lady.
The campaign released a statement to reporters, attributed to Jason Miller, the “senior communications adviser,” which ignored the allegations entirely.
“In writing her beautiful speech,” Miller, said, “Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking. Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”
But by Tuesday morning proper, the story had swelled to the degree that it could no longer be dismissed.
Manafort appeared on CNN and suggested Melania’s words, or Michelle Obama’s, were too common for anyone to claim ownership of.
“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” he said. “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.”
He added, “This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down.”
Manafort later insinuated it was the Clinton campaign that turned the plagiarism into a major story.
And Ben Carson, the former candidate and current Trump surrogate, argued that the plagiarism in fact said positive things about America.
“If Melania’s speech is similar to Michelle Obama’s speech, that should make us all very happy, because we should be saying, whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, we share the same values,” he said.
But no one could top Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s spokesman, who used the rare cartoon pastel pony defense.
“We’re talking about 70 words, three passages,” Spicer said, dismissively, to CNN on Tuesday. “Melania Trump said, ‘the strength of your dreams and willingness to work for them.’ Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony said, ‘This is your dream. Anything you can do in your dreams, you can do now.’”
This went on and on until Wednesday afternoon, when a letter on Trump Organization stationary was sent to reporters. It was from Meredith McIver, who cowrote, Trump: How to Get Rich and Trump 101: The Way to Success with the candidate.
The note was addressed, “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,” and introduced McIver as “an in-house staff writer at the Trump Organization.”
She confessed she had worked with Melania on her speech, and in doing so they had “discussed many people who inspired her and messages she wanted to share with the American people.”
McIver said Melania “always liked” Michelle Obama, and she had read passages from her speech over the phone, as an example of the sort of message she wanted to send on the convention stage.
“I wrote them down,” she said, “and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech.”
She admitted to making “a mistake” and said, “I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant.”
She offered her resignation, she said, but Trump rejected it.
So, that settles it. It was plagiarism, but it not on purpose. Or Melania wrote her speech, or she didn’t, or My Little Pony wrote it, or Hillary Clinton orchestrated the entire thing from her lizard person compound at Bohemian Grove.
What a time to be alive!