Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman, gave an interview Wednesday morning with CNN's Chris Cuomo that was, in a word, surreal.
This exchange — while long — is remarkable:
CUOMO: But I've got to — I’ve got to go back to this other point, though, Paul. I just have to. The idea that we're ignoring something that doesn't matter flies in the face of what we're about. This is about the truth. It’s about the truth. And that's all it’s about. The language came from Michelle Obama's speech.MANAFORT: And the truth — and the truth — the truth is the words that — the truth is the feelings that were expressed by Melania Trump that night, which you don't want to focus on. It was the message that she was communicating. That's the truth. And that message reflected her — her — her heart.CUOMO: Of course I want to focus on it. We say she gave a good speech. We say it was compelling. The words were the same that Michelle Obama —MANAFORT: Well, then move on. Then move on.CUOMO: But I can't move on because you keep lying about it, so I can't move on from it, because I have to talk about what is true.MANAFORT: Chris, I'm not lying about anything. I’m not lying about anything, Chris.CUOMO: Did the language — did a portion of the language of that speech come from Michelle Obama's speech, yes or no?MANAFORT: As far as we're concerned, there are similar words that were used. We've — 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. You want to have that opinion, fine. You want to talk about it for the next six months, I’m not going to be here because I’ve got other things I’ve got to talk about.
That's an amazing explanation from Manafort for plagiarism. Yes, there were similar words. (Correction: They were the same words.) But that doesn't matter because the "feelings of those words and the commonality of those words do no create a situation which we feel we have to agree with you."
Um, what? I think the argument Manafort is making is that because Melania Trump believed what she said and because her words came from the heart, it's not plagiarism. That, of course, makes no sense. If I use a soliloquy from "MacBeth" without attribution, it doesn't make any difference that I really meant those words that Shakespeare wrote. Look, I believe in every word of "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." But that doesn't mean I came up with it. Plagiarism is using someone else's words as your own without acknowledging it. Period. Intent or "feeling" is not part of it.
That we are now three days into the mystery of how and why Michelle Obama's words wound up in Melania's speech speaks to the giant gamble the Trump campaign seems committed to taking: Blame this plagiarism on Hillary Clinton and the media with some vague explanation of how and why and simply bulldoze on through to Thursday night when Trump delivers his acceptance speech.
It's a strategy that will absolutely work for the delegates here in Cleveland and the Trump supporters who have been with him through thick and thin. But for a still shaky Republican establishment and the swing and undecided voters Trump badly need to beat Clinton, it's hard to see how litigating — for three days! — an obvious case of plagiarism makes sense.
Trump, of course, has proven that up is down before. I am skeptical he can do it in this situation.