How Melania Trump’s speech deviated and caused an uproar
CLEVELAND – It was the biggest speech in Melania Trump’s life, and her husband Donald wanted it to be perfect.
The Trump campaign turned to two high-profile speech writers, who had helped draft an iconic political oratory like George W. Bush’s address to the nation on September 11, 2001, to introduce Mrs. Trump, a former Slovenian model. , to the nation. during the opening night of the Republican National Convention.
It didn’t go as planned and overshadowed much of the action at the party rally in Cleveland, where delegates officially named Mr. Trump as president Tuesday night.
Speechwriters Matthew Scully and John McConnell sent Ms Trump a draft last month, eager for her approval.
Weeks passed. They didn’t hear anything.
Inside the Trump Tower, it turned out that Ms. Trump decided she wasn’t comfortable with the text and started tearing it up, leaving a small fraction of the original.
His low-key plan to snatch the speech and make it his own sparked the most embarrassing moment of the convention: word-for-word repetition phrases and themes borrowed from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention eight years ago.
The ridicule from Democrats and Republicans was instantaneous and relentless, disrupting what was meant to be a highlight of the convention.
It was, obviously, a completely avoidable blunder, committed in front of an audience of 23 million viewers, that exposed the weaknesses of an organization that has long rejected the guarantees of a modern presidential campaign, such as software. free that detects plagiarism.
“It just shouldn’t have happened,” said Matt Latimer, White House speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “It was an easy speech to make: a successful and attractive immigrant talking about her husband.”
No one seemed more surprised than Mr. and Mrs. Trump, who arrived in New York City on Tuesday morning after a flight from Cleveland to find themselves at the center of a bizarre uproar over authenticity, plagiarism and a thorny question: why the wife of the Republican candidate borrows passages from the wife of the current Democratic president?
Ms Trump spent most of Tuesday out of sight, while her husband expressed frustration and anger throughout the day.
This account of the transformation of a professionally drafted speech into the problematic version delivered Monday night at the Quicken Loans Arena is based on interviews with more than a dozen people involved and close to the Trump campaign. Many of them spoke on condition of anonymity to leak details that were supposed to be kept private.
This reinforces the dominant themes of Mr. Trump’s campaign that have lingered since the primary, which his team struggled to change: a deliberately stripped-back campaign structure, sloppy styling, and a reliance on candidate instinct rather than candidate instinct. ‘to the judgments of experienced politicians. experts, like Mr. Scully and Mr. McConnell.
The two writers of the original speech were unsure of how much the speech had changed until they saw Ms. Trump deliver it on television Monday night, along with the rest of the country.
In the prime-time speech, Ms. Trump unfolded a sequence of life lessons – on how “your word is your connection,” on “your dreams and your willingness to work for them” and “integrity, the passion and intelligence ”of her parents – in the same order and using much of the same language that Mrs. Obama used in 2008.
Like Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Trump spoke about how she wanted to pass these lessons on to her children and the children of the world. And just like Mrs. Obama, she made a vaporous invocation of the infinity of aspirations when accompanied by determination.
In one series of evolutionary explanations, Trump’s aides and allies called the episode an insignificant distraction, alternating between outright denial that Ms. Trump’s speech used verbatim phrases from Ms. Obama and media blame.
“Ninety-three percent of the speech is completely different,” said Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chair, set the number of suspicious words at 50. “And that includes ‘and’ and ‘thes’ and things like that,” he said on Tuesday.
Across the country, soft-mouthed Republican political operatives and speechwriters have expressed bemusement at the organizational breakdown allowing such an episode to occur.
“It’s like a guy trying to row a river across a river and poking a hole in his boat,” said Stuart Stevens, who wrote speeches for Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, throughout. the 2012 campaign.
In interviews, alarmed Republican speechwriters described the levels of formal scrutiny, seemingly ignored by the Trump campaign, traditionally applied to nearly all major convention speech projects. They described word-by-word fact checking by a dedicated team of experts and software designed to detect plagiarism. Several online programs, such as DupliChecker, are available free of charge.
“It’s pretty standard,” Stevens said of the software, which detects overlaps in word choice and sentence structure. “We used it.”
An urgent priority: to avoid the slightest suspicion of oratorical theft.
“The most cardinal rule in any speech writing operation is that you cannot plagiarize,” said Mr. Latimer, Bush’s speech writer, who is now a partner at Javelin, a communications firm. If you do, he said, “you lose your job. “
This is unlikely to happen in the Trump campaign, which revolves around a free candidate with staunch resistance to admitting a mistake.
It was Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and best advisor, who commissioned the speeches of Mr Scully and Mr McConnell – and praised their project. But Mrs Trump decided to revise it and at one point she turned to a hand of confidence: Meredith McIver, a former New York-based ballet dancer and English major who has worked on some of Mr. Trump’s books, including “Think Like a Billionaire.” It wasn’t clear how much of a role Ms. McIver had in the final product, and she didn’t respond to an email on Tuesday.
(Wednesday, Mrs. McIver issued a statement take the blame for the passages that were lifted and call them an innocent error at the start of speech writing. She said she offered her resignation, but Mr. Trump and his family refused to accept it.)
The search for the speech, it seems, drew Mr. Scully and Mr. McConnell to the previous convention speeches given by the candidates’ spouses.
The Trump campaign declined to say who or how many senior campaign officials read or revised the speech. But when Ms. Trump and her team finished revising the speech, virtually all that was left of the original was an introduction and a passage that included the phrase “a national campaign like no other.”
The controversy sparked by the stumbling quickly spread from the political class to average Americans: African Americans were angry that Ms. Trump chose to brush off the words of the country’s first African American first lady, especially in light of Mr. Trump’s hostility to President Obama. Dozens of Twitter users, rolling out the hashtag #famousMelaniaTrumpQuotes, have started to reassign famous lines, like “I have a dream” from Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to Ms. Trump.
But the mischievous teasing got serious at times, as black people relied on a painful history of prominent white figures stealing the work of black artists and presenting it as their own. “I’m not surprised Melanie plagiarized Michelle,” Yasmin Yonis wrote. “White women have spent centuries stealing the genius, the job, the babies, the bodies of black women.”
To many Republicans, the default seemed inevitably frustrating on the part of a candidate who did not simply avoid the safety nets of a major political campaign – he laughed at it as a waste of money. His campaign slogans, “America First” and “Make America Great Again,” echoed Pat Buchanan and Ronald Reagan. His social media graphics were outsourced to Twitter and Reddit by an assistant who previously managed Mr. Trump’s golf club in Westchester.
The errors have piled up. Last summer, Mr. Trump tweeted his portrait overlaid on a White House photo and what happened be a stock image of WWII Waffen-SS troops.
But this one stung, in part because everyone was watching.
Jon Favreau, former speechwriter for President Obama, was at home on his couch after halfway through Ms. Trump’s television speech while catching up with work on Monday night. At first he was skeptical of criticism.
“Everyone says, ‘You work hard,’” Mr. Favreau said, reciting a line from the speech. “Political speeches are filled with clichés that are impossible to avoid. But when he got to Ms. Trump saying, “Your word is your link,” Mr. Favreau recalled, he stopped dead.
“I remember Michelle saying, ‘Your word is your link’ and I thought I had never heard anyone say that in politics,” Mr. Favreau said. “That’s when I knew it might have been copied.”