By Joe Henderson: Trump campaign response to plagiarism charge was textbook blunder
TAMPA –The problem with Donald Trump’s effort to win the White House was just encapsulated in this statement by his campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
When asked about what appears to be irrefutable evidence that portions of Malania Trump’s speech Monday night were plagiarized from (of all people) Michelle Obama, Manafort said the charge is “really absurd.”
“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values. She cares about her family,” Manafort told CNN on Tuesday morning. “To think that she’d be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”
Manafort is supposed to be a pro, well-versed in how to run a national campaign. The textbook response is say the speech inadvertently contained similar words and phrases (even though some were identical) and tone in a couple of small places to what Obama said about her husband in the 2008 Democratic convention.
Then Manafort should have said there was no deliberate attempt to steal Obama’s words, and that the speech-writer responsible should have known better and has been given a plane ticket home.
In other words: oops, sorry, my bad, move on.
But no, Manafort’s response now invites – nay, demands – those side-by-side comparisons between what Mrs. Trump said and the words of the woman she hopes to replace as First Lady. And voters, now more engaged in the story than they would otherwise have been, get to make up their own mind about whether the accusation of plagiarism is true.
The act of “borrowing” these words should have had a short shelf life, but now Manafort has made it into a bigger thing. People won’t decide to vote for Hillary in November because of this, but it’s another unforced error by a campaign that seems to be making such gaffes with uncomfortable regularity.
The White House had a terrific response to the charge: crickets. No statement, no nothing.
That’s because there is no need for them say anything when Manafort said it all. He could have put out the fire in the morning, but now it becomes a thing to fill time in the hours leading up to the evening’s program.
This is the kind of blunder that sends cable TV and talks shows into a feeding frenzy.
Did she? Didn’t she?
Let’s bring in our expert!
Let’s bring in former speech writer …!
If all that sounds silly – and to some degree it is – it’s just the latest example of why polls show Americans remain highly skeptical about Donald Trump’s readiness to govern.
All human beings make mistakes, and in big-time politics those mistakes are magnified. Every word of a speech like the one Malania Trump delivered is going to be dissected, discussed and detailed.
True, the reaction of the overwhelming majority of Americans would probably be, “Wow, she gave a nice speech” but that’s not where the campaign should be focused. We live in a Twitter world, where it only takes one motivated person willing to say, “Hey that line sounded familiar” to throw a campaign off message.
That person sends out a tweet, which gets retweeted, and pretty soon the campaign has a viral problem. The key is in knowing how to put such things to rest before they become a thing that hurts the candidate.
That didn’t happen here.
And that, as Manfort might say in a different context, is really absurd