Meredith McIver, an employee of Donald Trump's company (not campaign) had accidentally used first lady Michelle Obama's words from a 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Melania Trump had read McIver passages of Obama's speeches that she liked, and McIver jotted them down without realizing they belonged to the first lady. (McIver's full letter is here.)
It's not a perfect explanation — did McIver not realize Melania Trump was quoting from a Michelle Obama speech? How? — but it is a plausible explanation for what happened and why.
But when Melania Trump got the speech, which she presumably practiced, did she not recognize the words she had read to McIver on the phone as Michelle Obama's words?
Why did it take so long to get this story out to the public? And why did everyone from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort offer a variety of increasingly implausible explanations for what they had to know all along was plagiarism within their own organization?
Here's what Manafort told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday morning about the plagiarism allegations: "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."
Why say that if you know that less than six hours later a statement is going to come out that contradicts your insistence that these were just similar words and not actual plagiarism? And, why spend the last 38 hours insisting this was a trumped-up — ahem — media story when, in fact, you knew all along it wasn't?
The smart thing to do — and the thing that any even marginally traditional campaign would have done — is rapidly figure out that the blame lies with McIver, release this letter overnight Monday and cast the whole thing as an innocent mistake by a longtime loyalist who was simply trying to help her friend Melania Trump.
That approach wouldn't have squashed the story entirely on Tuesday. But it would have taken a whole lot of oxygen out of it. By Tuesday night — and certainly by Wednesday morning — the talk of the town would have been Donald Trump Jr.'s terrific speech Tuesday night and how momentum was building to Ted Cruz and Mike Pence Wednesday night.
Instead, for some unknown reason, the Trump campaign spent all of Tuesday defending a position that they knew they could never hold. And then they gave up on it. Inevitably.
None of this plagiarism foofaraw means that Trump is or isn't going to win in November. This episode will be long forgotten by then. But, if conventions are about building momentum throughout their four days — and they are — then the Trump campaign just wasted a very precious 38 hours.