CLEVELAND — The fact that Melania Trump’s convention speech was partially lifted from one that Michelle Obama gave in 2008 is embarrassing, but mistakes, even big ones, happen on inexperienced, understaffed campaigns like Trump’s.
Eric Schnure, a former speechwriter for Al Gore, said that the first step for a major address like Mrs. Trump’s would be a review of other spouse’s previous speeches. But Schnure, who also teaches speechwriting at American University and Johns Hopkins, said any student who turned in an assignment with the same level of duplication would likely be suspended for plagiarism.
“You could argue a 19-year-old doesn’t understand what plagiarism is,” Schnure said. “But certainly Paul Manafort does.”
But listening to Manafort and the rest of Team Trump’s response in the hours after the discovery, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Mrs. Trump’s speech.
First came the 2 a.m. response to reporters’ questions from Jason Miller, a spokesman for the campaign, who declared the “beautiful” speech a success, explaining that a team of writers had produced it “and, in some instances, included fragments that reflected her own thinking.”
Hours later, Manafort hit the morning news shows to bat down even the suggestion that the speech was not Mrs. Trump’s own. “There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” Manafort told CNN. On CBS, he insisted that the phrases in question are common. “These are not unique words that belong to the Obamas.”
At a briefing an hour after that, Manafort turned the entire episode into an example of the Democrats’ dirty tricks. “Certainly, we noticed that the Clinton camp was the first to get it out there,” he said. “It’s just another example that when Hillary Clinton feels threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy that person.”
It’s not the first time that the Trump campaign had made statements that can only be described as distortions, conspiracies or outright lies.
In the hours after Roll Call broke the news on Thursday that Trump had chosen Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate, multiple members of the Trump campaign said the report was false. Miller tweeted that “a decision has not been made by Mr. Trump,” while Manafort said “a VP decision will be made in the near future.” Trump himself said Thursday night that he had not made a “final, final decision.” In reality, Trump had offered the job to Pence on Wednesday, the day before the denials.
The list goes on. Earlier in the campaign, Manafort told a group of Republican lawmakers that House Speaker Paul Ryan had alerted the Trump campaign that his long-delayed endorsement would come within days. AshLee Strong, Ryan’s spokeswoman, said Ryan hadn’t told anyone anything .
When decades-old audio tapes emerged of Trump calling a reporter and using the alias John Barron, Manafort told Jake Tapper on CNN that he couldn’t tell who was talking on the tapes, even though Trump had testified under oath that he routinely used the alias.
And we all remember when former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski insisted he had never met reporter Michelle Fields nor touched her during an alleged assault, even though video footage showed he clearly had.
Trump himself has made a habit out of denying things he has done and inventing things he has not. He routinely says he opposed the Iraq war, even though there’s no evidence he ever did. He famously said he gave $1 million to veterans’ charities earlier this year, but didn’t write the check until The Washington Post inquired about it.
None of this dismisses Hillary Clinton’s own problems with the truth, most especially FBI Director James Comey’s recent testimony explaining the many, many ways Clinton has lied about her email server in public statements. But Clinton’s dishonesty is no reason to ignore Trump’s.
The mechanics and instincts of these campaigns matter. Taking the Melania Trump episode as the latest example, the Trump campaign’s instinct to distract from its own incompetence with lies and conspiracies should worry all voters. If they’ll do it during the campaign, you can bet they’d do it in the White House.