The highlight of the first day of the Republican convention was the speech by Donald Trump’s wife Melania, who was seeking to make a memorable impression on the world, and may have done just that… only not in the way she had envisioned. Because in her potentially breakthrough moment, Melania appears to have lifted some of her first night convention speech from a surprising source: a similar speech by none other than Michelle Obama.
Indeed, while the delegates applauded Mrs. Trump’s speech, shortly after its conclusion accusations emerged that the potential future first lady plagiarised parts of her speech from the current first lady.
As Bloomberg notes, on the opening day of the Republican National Convention, the similarities between the two speeches threatened to overshadow the plans of the Trump campaign to reach out to new voters and generate momentum for the general election against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Several parts of the Slovenia-born former model’s speech were similar to words that Mrs Obama used in an address at the Democratic convention in 2008. According to the FT, some phrases — including “you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say” — were identical.
“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 said as she told her life story. It strongly echoed Michelle Obama’s own words at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. “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.”
Courtesy of Reuters, here is the full breakdown of the two speeches, suggesting that Melania’s speechwriters took quite a few liberties with what the current first lady said some 8 years ago.
A comparison of the key parts of the speeches, via Reuters
Melania Trump (July 2016): “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 and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect.
Michelle Obama (August 2008): “And 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 and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.
MT: “They taught me to show the values and morals in my daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son.
MO: “And Barack Obama and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generations.
MT: “And 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.”
MO: “Because we want our children, and all children in this nation, to know that the only limit to the height of your achievement is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Before delivering her remarks at the convention, Trump and his wife were interviewed by NBC’s Matt Lauer. “I wrote it, with a little help, as possible,” Melania Trump said of the speech. She may have to revise that statement. As Bloomberg adds, Tommy Vietor, a former national security spokesman for President Barack Obama, said the similarity was “pretty egregious.” “I doubt Melania intended to plagiariaze FLOTUS, but her speechwriter has some explaining to do,” he said on Twitter.
In response to the plagiarism allegations, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said: “In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking. Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”
It may not be enough to satisfy criticism, however, as even the Economist points out, “Mrs Trump is not her husband.” As such it is very unlikely that her apparent plagiarism is about to kill Trump’s campaign. Recall what happened to Joe Biden’s fledgling presidential run in 1988, after he was shown to have unwittingly ripped off speeches by both Robert Kennedy and Neil Kinnock, the then leader of the British Labour Party. Biden is vice president now.
According to the FT, “the controversy threatens to cast a cloud over the campaign plan to use Mr Trump’s wife and children to create a more palatable aura around him after he spent much of the past year employing divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail.”
However, Trump’s speech wasn’t even the biggest drama of the first RNC convention day, which took place not on the huge event stage but on the floor of the convention, where as we reported previously, some members of the Virginia delegation objected vociferously when convention leaders passed the rules without allowing delegates to vote. Last week, the Trump team defeated a last-ditch effort by the #NeverTrump movement to change the rules to remove his nomination.
We doubt that Trump will dwell too much on this latest incident involving his campaign, and now his wife, and if anything will blame the culpable party – the speechwriter who ultimately ended up cribbing not from Michelle Obama, but her own speechwriter, Sarah Hurwitz. One thing remains certain: the drama must go on.
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