CLEVELAND — Donald Trump’s advisers say his greatest imperative at the Republican National Convention is to showcase the candidate as a crisp manager and a decisive leader. By that measure, he has gotten off to a bad start.
The flap over the apparent plagiarism in his wife’s opening-night speech has underscored the dissonance between the person Trump claims to be and what his actions and reactions say about the qualities he would bring to the Oval Office.
A reality-television star whose tag line is “You’re fired!,” Trump showed no inclination to hold anyone accountable for a real-world foul-up. .
Instead, his campaign team denied that anything had been amiss in Melania Trump’s address, which included many of the same phrases from a speech given by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, even went so far as to try to foist the blame on a dirty trick by Hillary Clinton’s political operation, which he accused of manufacturing the controversy.
Not even the Republican National Committee’s chairman, Reince Priebus, seemed to buy that, as he told reporters that someone in Trump’s operation “probably” should have been fired over the embarrassment.
“The distraction gets you off message a little bit this morning, but I think we’ll get back to action this afternoon,” Priebus said hopefully during a media breakfast hosted by Bloomberg Politics on Tuesday. It appeared he was trying to wing a response, having had no explanation from the Trump campaign as to how things had gone so awry.
Trump had been presumed to excel at having a showman’s flair. But even in that area, the launch of the convention fell short of the mark.
Republicans had left Quicken Loans Arena on Monday night convinced that Melania Trump’s address had been a highlight of an uneven opening day.
Her speech had been bookended by a nasty rules fight among screaming delegates and a disjointed succession of presenters, who ran so long that the convention hall emptied out while speakers were still on the stage.
The tone of the proceedings also raised some questions.
“I don’t think we can win without appealing to Hispanic, black and Asian voters across the country,” Priebus said. “And it’s going to be our effort to not just do what we’ve been doing, but expanding our effort and getting our nominee out in front of people and talking about those issues.”
However, the first day’s program did not make that kind of nod toward an increasingly diverse country.
Scott Baio, an actor known mostly for the sitcom “Happy Days,” was one of many who echoed Trump’s campaign slogan in his convention speech — but he added a twist that sounded anything but inclusive.
“So of course, let’s make America great again,” Baio said. “But let’s make America America again.”
The days leading into the convention had been worrisome as well to those who were looking for signs that the impulsive and unpredictable billionaire was growing into his role as the standard-bearer for a party that has traditionally prided itself on its discipline.
His pick of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a running mate had generally been hailed as a solid one, but the announcement itself was wobbly.
First, there was the intrigue of Trump’s 11th-hour waffling over one of the most important decisions that any presidential candidate has to make.
Then came the formal vice-presidential unveiling itself, at a bizarre event dominated by Trump’s stream-of-consciousness ramblings about Clinton, his Republican primary battles and a host of issues that seemed to have little to do with Pence, who stood offstage.
Even the atmospherics were off, with dim lighting and the strange choice of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as the music to which Trump entered the event.
The good news for Trump is that the convention is far from over.
His children, who are considered appealing and steadying validators, will be featured heavily during the remainder of the four-day event.
Pence’s address to the delegates — and to the national television audience — also holds the potential to help put the narrative back on track.
And, of course, the biggest test will be Trump’s own acceptance speech on Thursday.
“The speech will be him,” Manafort said Monday, hours before the opening of the convention. “You know, how we start isn’t as important as where we finish. And I mean, he’s editing right off the teleprompter when he’s practicing. And that’s why his voice has been captured. But this will be a more structured speech in the traditional sense.”
Republicans will be hoping so.