CLEVELAND, Washington – As Donald Trump claimed the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday, his campaign struggled to contain the fallout from revelations that portions of his wife’s speech before the Republican National Convention on Monday night were lifted from an address delivered eight years earlier by Michelle Obama.
Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort began his day by defending Melania Trump while leaving plenty of questions unanswered about the origin of her speech.
“To think that she would do something like that, knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night, is just really absurd,” Manafort told CNN.
While Trump did not publicly comment on the charges of plagiarism, his son absolved Manafort for the imbroglio and placed the blame solely on the speech writers. “Having never done this before, you have to work with speechwriters. Those are the people that did this, not Paul,” Donald Trump Jr. said in an interview with CBS’s Nora O’Donnell.
All day Tuesday, Trump’s surrogates and supporters found it nearly impossible to avoid the topic.
“The distraction gets you off message a little bit this morning, but I think we’ll get back to action this afternoon,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast with journalists. Priebus added that if it were his decision, he would “probably” fire whoever wrote Mrs. Trump’s speech.
But Trump’s campaign is hoping that the controversy will simply blow over and has no plans to fire anyone, CNN reported. Nor has it identified the person responsible for inserting the lines into the speech that echoed those of Michelle Obama’s address to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Around the Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday, the talk among convention attendees centered on the speech. Stopped by a television crew, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert said he thought the controversy over the speech was overblown but conceded that Trump may be compelled to let a staff member go.
Other campaign surrogates attempted to spin the striking similarities between the two speeches in various ways.
Ben Carson, Trump’s former opponent in the Republican primary, said he saw the overlap as a sign of bipartisanship. “If Melania’s speech is similar to Michelle Obama’s speech, that should make us all very happy because we should be saying, whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, we share the same values,” he told reporters Tuesday morning, Politico reported.
On Tuesday evening, however, the party delivered a rush of good news to Trump as he clinched the GOP presidential nomination 13 months after launching an improbable bid for the White House.
Trump won with 1,725 delegates, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with 475 delegates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 120 and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida with 114. Three other candidates emerged with a total of 12 delegates.
After the presidential nominating vote, the convention by voice vote nominated Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, 57, as Trump’s vice presidential running mate.
But anti-Trump factions plan to disrupt what is often a climactic moment for nominees as the nation watches.
The rare public speech by Melania Trump on Monday was intended to draw a more intimate portrait of a man who has built a blustery persona over years in the public eye. Instead, it created a headache for the presidential candidate and his party after it was discovered her words strongly echoed Obama’s.
“There’s no feeling on her part that she did it,” Manafort said, adding that he blames Hillary Clinton’s campaign for trying to “take her down” because Melania Trump threatens the presumptive Democratic nominee.
That was at odds with Manafort’s assertion, in an interview on CBS, that “I don’t think Donald Trump feels that there’s anything to fire someone about.” To the Associated Press, Manafort said, “Frankly if I knew somebody did it, I would fire them too,” but that he didn’t see plagiarism in this case. “There were a few words on it, but they’re not words that were unique words.”
Several people — including some outside the campaign — were involved in the speech-writing process, said a senior Trump aide, in a signal that the campaign was looking to assign blame elsewhere.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager who left the staff last month amid signs of a power struggle with Manafort, said whoever signed off on the speech should be held accountable. “I think if it was Paul Manafort, he would do the right thing and resign,” Lewandowski said on CNN.
Trump, Jr. made it clear that he sided with Manafort in their feud.
“There’s a reason that Paul is in the position that he is in today and Corey’s not,” Trump Jr. told CBS. “From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say,” Melania Trump, 46, said as she told her life story in the convention speech Monday night.
Eight years ago, Michelle Obama told her own story: “Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond,” she said in Denver.
Michelle Obama then spoke of setting “out to build lives guided by these values, and to pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Melania Trump tracked those lines closely as well. “We need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
In an interview with her husband and NBC’s Matt Lauer before delivering her remarks at the convention, Melania Trump said, “I wrote it, with as little help as possible.”
The comparison between the speeches was first made on Twitter by Jarrett Hill, a television and radio producer in California.