Opinion

Melania Appropriates Michelle's Words as GOP Borrows Dem-Style Emotion

A grieving mother and other gut-punchers are center stage on Day 1 of Donald Trump's RNC

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump points to his wife Melania following her speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The undisputed lowlight of the first night of the Republican National Convention was Melania Trump’s overt and initially dumbfounding plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the convention that nominated her husband.  

Homage? No, I think we can safely rule that out. Given that there was zero chance that this appropriation would go unnoticed , we might next wonder if the speechwriter had booby-trapped her prime time moment. Except, isn't her husband a careful monitor of the words she said she wrote herself? He has signed off personally on every speaker at the convention, I’m told, so he would hardly let his wife's address come as a surprise.  

Maybe the heavy lifting underlines Trump’s whole robber-baron persona. (Rules? What rules?) As The New York Times headlined last month, “Trump Institute Offered Get-Rich Schemes with Plagiarized Lessons,” too, so perhaps the soon-to-be nominee believes that words are there for the taking.  

(“These were common words and values,” Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said on CNN, denying that there was any “cribbing.” “And she cares about her family.”)  

The Nixonian option here is that putting soft-spoken Melania in the role of victim for swiping the really pretty banal words she borrowed from Michelle was intentional — and a way to intensify the aftershocks of an already melodramatic evening.  

The rest of Monday night’s RNC orations, all built around the theme “Make America Safe Again,” were so emotional that one of my friends wondered whether the big finish would include Tiny Tim and some homeless kittens.  

Patricia Smith , the anguished mother of Sean Smith, who died in the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, tearfully blamed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the death of her son: “Hillary Clinton is a woman, a mother and a grandmother of two. I am a woman, a mother and a grandmother of two. How could she do this to me?” she asked, her voice cracking.  

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry told a moving story about meeting Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell years ago, and then later having him show up at the governor’s mansion “with nowhere else to turn.”  

David Clarke, Jr ., the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, who is African American, gave a hot speech describing Black Lives Matter activists as lawbreakers with a lot to answer for in an address he began by saying, “Blue lives matter.”  

And when World War II veteran Bob Dole , who uses a wheelchair now, and is the only former GOP nominee in Cleveland this week, waved to the crowd, you'd have to have been made of some locally produced steel not to have gotten a lump in your throat.  

All of this is a shift for Republicans, who have traditionally focused on dollars-and-cents arguments, and left the heartstring-tugging to Democrats like John Edwards, who told that story about the little girl with no coat . Or congressional Democrats, who've introduced  us to folks on the edge of ruin and about to lose their unemployment benefits.  

Since so many of us do vote on emotion  — more a gut feeling about who these candidates are rather than a careful analysis of the issues — that’s not an absurd strategy. And with positions that have so changed from day to day, Donald Trump's whole candidacy is based on emotion. At his rallies, supporters often say they don't take every word out of his mouth literally, or agree with all of those words that they do believe he means. Instead, they relate to his unmistakably clear, fed-up feeling.   

Given that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all made voters respond more viscerally than their presidential opponents did, this emotion-gap must worry Hillary Clinton, who knows that while facts can be fudged  and words stolen outright , feeling is harder for some of us to fake.  

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