CLEVELAND, Ohio -- For more than a year now, the Donald Trump campaign has moved from crisis to crisis, even as the brash billionaire bested other candidates to become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Today, Trump and his team are still in crisis mode and they show no sign of a style change here at the Republican convention.
After a loud and well-organized protest was mounted by anti-Trump delegates on the convention floor — before being crushed by Republican National Committee officials — it seemed that disunity in the party would be the storyline emerging from Cleveland Tuesday morning. However, as has often been the case with Trump’s campaign, a fresh scandal soon erupted to push the ugly floor fight out of the limelight.
Trump’s wife, former fashion model Melania Trump, gave a much-anticipated speech Monday evening, kicking off the campaign’s effort to humanize Trump through testimonials from family members. The speech and Melania Trump were generally given high marks as the first day of the convention came to a close. However, it quickly emerged that significant parts of Trump’s speech Monday were plagiarized from, of all people, current First Lady Michelle Obama.
Despite overwhelming evidence that some of the language in the speech had been taken from Obama’s 2008 convention speech, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort blithely denied it in a Tuesday morning press conference. "We're comfortable that the words that she used are words that were personal to her," he said, before somehow blaming the whole thing — with no explanation — on presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
"It's just another example as far as we're concerned that when Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy the person,” Manafort said.
National Journal political columnist Ron Fournier said that the plagiarism itself could probably be dealt with easily. “A potential first lady and/or her staff plagiarizing from the current first lady probably doesn’t have legs. What has legs is how they respond to it. Do they get to the bottom of it, be honest about how it happened? Does whoever plagiarized from (Michelle Obama) get fired? Is it her? Is it a staff member? Is it a member of the family?”
However, he said, the fact that it occurred at all raises questions that have dogged Trump for months.
“How does something like this happen?” Fournier asked. “What does it say about their campaign? Their ability to manage a complicated enterprise like the convention, which by the way, isn’t nearly as complicated as running the country? Every day in a campaign is a test. All of yesterday, especially with respect to her speech, they flunked it.”
The chaotic first day of the campaign has led to broad speculation that Manafort might be in danger of losing his job.
“He should be,” said Fournier. “If the CEO of a business got off to as poor a start — and I’m not just talking about the convention but since he sewed up the nomination — he or she would have been fired a long time ago.”
Don Baer, a former Republican White House speechwriter and current CEO of the advertising firm Burson-Marsteller, said in interview with MSNBC, “Look, at the end of the day, they ought to just fess up. Just say, someone messed up, this was wrong and move on with it. But they’re fighting it. Donald Trump says he can bend through his willfulness, bend the whole world to his way of thinking. It’s clear what happened here.”
Baer continued, “Donald Trump’s campaign has been like one long reality TV show. The problem is that reality TV is not real. So now it’s real. And I half expect that there is this dramatic music that comes on and somebody is talking about what happened inside here and all that. Let’s just get on with it. They ripped this off, they should fess up to it. If they had real adult supervision in this campaign, somebody would step up and say, ‘We were wrong. Now let’s move on.'”
Not all Republicans were ready to concede that the tumultuous first day of the convention signaled that the campaign had lost control.
The Trump campaign’s failure to control the behavior of angry delegates might have been brushed aside as the last gasp of a protest movement that has lost steam. After all, as Republican activist and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist put it while working his way through a crowd on 4th Street in downtown Cleveland Tuesday morning, “They won, didn’t they?”
Norquist said that the biggest problem arising from the controversy of Melania Trump’s speech is the loss of control of the media cycle.
“It doesn’t reflect on his wife or him, but the fact that people are talking about that and not something else is a lost opportunity,” he said.