Made me laugh as an especially over-the-top example of Team Trump’s instinct to brawl even when it’s to their strategic advantage to defuse the situation. (See also Manafort insulting John Kasich yesterday when he’s counting on the Ohio GOP to build a ground game for Trump.) The plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech is a slightly embarrassing nothingburger that no one’s going to care about next week and maybe not even something that will necessarily consume the media for the rest of the day unless Trump’s staff wants to make a thing of it. Making a thing of it is a good plan if you’re trying to win over Republicans, most of whom are already won and are forever complaining that nominees like McCain and Romney weren’t eager enough to throw a punch like Manafort’s doing here. Why you’d want to make a thing of it when, ostensibly, you’re trying to get swing voters to focus on your “Make America Safe Again” message from last night instead, I don’t know.
All Manafort had to say is this: “I’m not sure what happened but it’s obviously an accident. Probably the speechwriters were re-reading speeches by other First Ladies for inspiration, liked the bit in Michelle Obama’s speech and added it to their own copy as a working draft, then forgot to re-work it during the chaos of convention planning. I apologize, but no harm was intended.” Done and done. But Manafort can’t say that because rule one of being Trump or one of his lackeys is that you don’t apologize even when you’ve made a mistake that the whole world can plainly see. So he’s stuck here arguing that the two passages aren’t all that similar despite the fact that they obviously are before taking a hard shot at Hillary. (Chris Christie took the novel approach of noting that 93 percent of the speech wasn’t plagiarized.) It’s Trump’s general-election strategy in a nutshell: Paper over the campaign’s manifest shortcomings by lying as needed and emphasizing constantly that Hillary Clinton is a monster. You want to know the real reason why Hillary’s team was quick out of the chute in flagging the plagiarism? It’s probably because she has a big organization staffed with Democratic pros, one of whom may very well have written those words in Michelle Obama’s speech and recognized them immediately.
For cripes sake, even newly minted Trump crony Reince Priebus, who stomped out the “Dump Trump” insurgency on the convention floor yesterday, acknowledged that this was a mistake:
Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday morning that he had not seen a video comparing the speeches of Melania Trump and Michelle Obama in 2008 but that “it certainly seems reasonable to me” that someone be fired over it.
“Certainly, I don’t blame her for any of that,” he said of Donald Trump’s wife. After her speech Monday night at the convention, it emerged that language in her speech was similar to that in Michelle Obama’s in 2008.
Trump advisor Sam Clovis and former advisor Barry Bennett also admitted that it was a screw-up and that action should be taken. That’s all Manafort had to say. But then, go figure that Manafort would be more sensitive than they are to copping to sloppiness that happened on his watch as campaign manager — at the expense of no less a person than Mrs. Trump. The Corey Lewandowski loyalists inside the campaign are probably whispering to Trump this morning that Manafort’s competence is overrated and that this never would have happened on Corey’s watch. It’s not just the Trump ethos that’s making Manafort hesitate to apologize. It’s that admitting error here, especially on top of his pressuring Trump to pick Pence as VP over a Trump chum like Chris Christie, might lead Trump to second-guess putting Manafort in charge. In fact, looky at what’s circulating in social media as I write this:
Corey Lewandowski: Melania's speechwriter should be fired. "I know what it's like to be fired by the Trump campaign." @CNN
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) July 19, 2016
Hopefully they’ll give up this lame “it wasn’t plagiarism” spin and shift to the more optimistic spin among Trump fans today, that the plagiarism was deliberate and actually a brilliant move proving that Trump is playing eight-dimensional chess because … something something.