Via Mediaite, this guy, Sean Spicer, is the top spokesman for the national Republican Party. When the GOP needs to send in the pros for maximum damage control, this is whom they turn to. Spicer had two options here. One: The sane, sober take offered by Trump advisor Sam Clovis.
Another adviser to Mr. Trump, who has assisted in the drafting of some of his speeches, acknowledged that Ms. Trump used words that were not her own. “I’m sure what happened is the person who was helping write this plucked something in there and unfortunate oversight and certainly Melania didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Sam Clovis, a Trump campaign co-chairman, in an interview on MSNBC.
That’s exactly what happened, I’d bet. The speechwriters were reviewing old speeches for thematic ideas, they found something in Michelle O’s 2008 speech that they liked, they copy/pasted it, and then they forgot that they’d never reworked her lines into something more original. Embarrassing but benign. Just cop to it, apologize, and move on. It’s over.
That was option one. Option two: Triple down on “it wasn’t plagiarism,” a la Paul Manafort, when it very clearly was and introduce “My Little Pony” into the mix just to make this wacky shiny object for the media even shinier. As far as I know Spicer doesn’t have brain damage, which means he chose door number two here because he didn’t have a choice in the matter. Someone ordered him to triple down. Only he knows who.
What makes this more awkward is that Trump may yet end up firing someone for the screw-up. What will the RNC’s reaction to that be? “It wasn’t plagiarism, but it’s a sign of Mr. Trump’s character that this obvious plagiarism was punished”?
“Not paying attention to details — that costs elections,” a source close to the campaign, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told NBC News.
The mistake is poised to cause turmoil within the campaign as well. Campaign sources described Mrs. Trump’s speech as the most sensitive of the convention because of her extreme discomfort with the political spotlight — she rarely gives interviews or appears at rallies and did not attend last week’s event introducing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as her husband’s running mate…
“It’s piss-poor staff work,” a source within the campaign told NBC News. “Melania has been humiliated. No doubt heads are going to roll.”
The remorseless churn of the news cycle, aided by tonight’s convention program, will make this go away for Trump soon but it’s fun to look at some of the alternative theories floating around for how the purloined lines made it into the speech. One from a Twitter pal is that Team Trump needed a way to make Bill Clinton’s past fair game for attacks and baiting Hillary into swiping at Melania was it. Er, okay, but (a) Bill’s past will come up anyway once Hillary starts pushing her “war on women” nonsense in earnest and (b) Team Hillary has actually been laying off of this so far precisely because they don’t want to be seen as picking on Trump’s wife. There are a million other things to hit him on. It’d be stupid to distract from those by needling Mrs. Trump. Another theory is Rush Limbaugh’s, that Team Trump might have stuck the plagiarized lines into the speech deliberately because they know the media admires Michelle Obama and this would force them to talk about the two in the same breath. Ooo-kay. And then a third theory, one that hasn’t quite bloomed yet but might be in the offing: Sabotage. Per the NYT, the man who wrote the first draft of Melania Trump’s speech was Matthew Scully. Scully is a longtime Republican speechwriter who worked for Bush 43 in the White House and has also written for Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, and Bob Dole. (He also wrote Sarah Palin’s famous VP acceptance speech in 2008.) Did an establishment man take revenge on Trump by slipping some lines from a — gasp — Michelle Obama speech into Melania Trump’s big moment? Er, no, almost certainly not, but why blame a simple mistake when we can invent some skullduggery?
If you want a counterpoint to the consensus (which I share) that no one will care about this 12 hours from now, read David Frum’s 10 reasons why Melania’s speech matters. The only two that persuade me are numbers two and 10. Yes, true, a needless plagiarism headache isn’t going to help the mood at a convention that’s already divided between Trumpers and more ambivalent Republicans, but one great speech could make that ache go away. If Chris Christie really lights it up tonight by prosecuting the case against the Clintons, Speechgate is already over. The other reason Frum gives might not be so easily dealt with, though. He speculates that the infighting within Team Trump could get even worse now that Mrs. Trump has been embarrassed. Will Lewandowski’s faction be back in favor and Manafort’s faction on the outs? Will Trump’s children have their speeches crafted more carefully than his wife’s? The last thing they need is more finger-pointing.
Update: Our man on the scene in Cleveland, Ed Morrissey, wrangled an interview with Spicer as he was making the rounds today. Here’s their chat.