Thirty-six hours later, Donald Trump's presidential campaign has finally admitted what everyone basically knew but that it chose, for some reason, to deny: That a portion of the speech Melania Trump gave Monday at the Republican National Convention was cribbed from Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention eight years prior.
A Trump aide said in a letter that it had been a mistake, but that the words were indeed from Obama's speech.
"In working with Melania Trump on her recent First Lady speech, we discussed many people who inspired her and messages she wanted to share with the American people," Trump staffer Meredith McIver said. "A person she has always liked is Michelle Obama. Over the phone, she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama's speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech. I did not check Mrs. Obama’s speeches. This was my mistake, and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant."
Fair enough. Honest mistake. Except that for the past day and a half, this wasn't presented as an honest mistake or anything close to it; it was presented as no mistake, period.
The Trump campaign and its allies argued or strongly suggested, against all reason, that the huge similarities between the two speeches were basically pure coincidence. They made ridiculous arguments that strained the rules of logic and often contradicted other comments from Trump allies and even the campaign itself.
And now all of those arguments have been shown to be what they are. Whether through dishonesty or rank amateurism, these were the arguments of people without a political leg to stand on — but who somehow failed to realize it and pressed on anyway.
A sampling of the worst offenses:
- “There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech. I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night; she knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy." -- Trump campaign co-chairman Paul Manafort
- "There were a few words on it, but they’re not words that were unique words." -- Manafort
- "It was not copied, and even [in] reporting on it, it wasn’t verbatim. I will say, yes, there were similarities to that speech. And again, these were also platitudes and values even that you can find in any motivational speaker book.” -- Trump national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson
- Asked by CNN's Chris Cuomo, "Did a portion of the language of that speech come from Michelle Obama's speech, yes or no?" Manafort responded: "As far as we're concerned, there are similar words that were used. We’ve said that. But the feelings of those words and the commonality of those words do not create a situation which we feel we have to agree with you."
- “This concept that Michelle Obama invented the English language is absurd.” -- Pierson
- "She really wanted to communicate to Americans in phrases that they've heard before." -- Pierson
- "Melania Trump said, 'the strength of your dreams and willingness to work for them.' Twilight Sparkle from 'My Little Pony' said, 'This is your dream. Anything you can do in your dreams, you can do now.' I mean, if we want to take a bunch of phrases and run them through a Google and say, 'Hey, who else has said them,' I can do that in five minutes. And that's what this is." -- RNC spokesman Sean Spicer
- "There's no way that Melania Trump was plagiarizing Michelle Obama's speech." -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)
- "I don’t think they were plagiarized. I think there are general principles that are very valuable to Americans, and of course to express those principles you’re going to use similar language." -- Ben Carson
You can parse each and every one of these statements to look for gray areas and wiggle room. Perhaps Melania Trump didn't personally plagiarize anything, for example. But then you have the comments suggesting the similarities between the speeches are total happenstance — something that has incontrovertibly now been disproved.
The entire picture is of a campaign that sought to utterly deny that anything at all untoward happened with Melania Trump's speech. The very charitable interpretation would be that it didn't do its homework. But the idea that it didn't talk to McIver about her drafting process even as these questions were being raised is totally unthinkable.
For a campaign that has been proven to lie repeatedly about a controversy — specifically, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski's grabbing of a female reporter — it's an all-too-familiar picture that isn't pretty.