Melania Trump’s speech Monday night was polished, personal and very warmly received by the delegates at the Republican National Convention. But Mrs. Trump’s speech also had at least two passages that bore significant similarities to the speech that Michelle Obama delivered to the Democratic National Convention in 2008. Jarrett Hill, a Los Angeles-based journalist, first made the comparison on Twitter in the moments after Mrs. Trump finished her remarks.
After speaking at length about her husband and his many talents — his “never-give-up attitude,” his strength, kindness, intelligence, loyalty, love for his family and general ability to Make America Great — she moved on to telling her personal story as a young child growing up in Slovenia.
“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect,” she said. “They taught and showed me morals in their daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to many generations to follow because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
In 2008, Michelle Obama reference the values that she and then-Sen. Obama shared.
“Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them,” Mrs. Obama said. “And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod summed the similarities up flatly in an interview on CNN. “It’s just plagiarism,” he said.
The Trump campaign did not respond to Roll Call for comment, but the brewing scandal has the potential to mar what was an otherwise successful debut for Melania Trump in her first time speaking on the national political stage.
Mrs. Trump has been an almost invisible presence on the campaign trail leading up to this moment. While the other Republican wives campaigned extensively with their husbands and even stood in for them at events in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mrs. Trump remained largely out of sight.
In her absence, the traditional role of political spouse has been almost fully occupied by Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka. It was Ivanka who introduced her father at his campaign announcement and it has been Ivanka, along with her husband, Jared, who have weighed in on campaign decisions and strategy. If Melania Trump was seen, she was rarely heard.
If she was heard, it was usually an interview from the gold-embossed Trump Tower apartment whose Louis XIV furnishings have hardly changed since Trump’s pre-Melania days. The other thing that hasn’t changed much is Trump himself. As Jonathan Allen pointed out to me, she is one of the rare political wives who can’t speak to her husband’s decades-long evolution toward the presidency, because she hasn’t been around for decades.
A clue to the role she does occupy in the Trump orbit came in the bio released by the campaign on Monday, which read, “Melania married Donald Trump in January 2005. In March 2006, they had their first baby Barron William Trump,” before detailing her modeling career and Trump-related charity projects.
But if the campaign has been trying to keep her under wraps or out of the spotlight, it was unclear why they would hold her back. As she appeared Monday night in Cleveland, she seemed relaxed and confident, selling her husband to America as smoothly as she might sell her caviar lotion on QVC.
“My husband will remain focused on only one thing — this country that he loves so much,” she promised.
Leading up to the evening speeches, the Trump campaign made it clear that Mrs. Trump’s speech would reveal a more human side of Donald Trump. Along with speeches from four of his five children, the message is meant to bring down his sky-high negative numbers among voters, and among female voters specifically.
Melania Trump not only praised her husband, she also offered a note of healing and unity that was glaringly absent from Trump’s own rhetoric and the rest of the evening’s speeches, which focused on illegal immigration, national security, and Hillary Clinton’s role in the terrorist attacks in Benghazi.
“The primary season and its toughness is behind us,” she said. “Let’s all come together in a national campaign like no other.”
So far, this has been, and will continue to be, a campaign like no other.