Trump campaign dismisses criticism of Melania’s speech
Cleveland — The Trump campaign on Tuesday dismissed criticism that Melania Trump directly lifted two passages nearly word-for-word from the speech that first lady Michelle Obama delivered in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention, calling the complaints “just absurd.”
“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, said Tuesday morning in a CNN interview. “Certainly, there’s no feeling on her part that she did it,” he said. “What she did was use words that are common words.”
Mrs. Trump’s star turn at the Republican National Convention Monday night captivated a GOP crowd that had rarely heard from the wife of Donald Trump. The passages in question focused on lessons that Trump’s wife says she learned from her parents and the relevance of their lessons in her experience as a mother.
Manafort said Mrs. Trump was aware of “how her speech was going to be scrutinized” and said any notion that she picked up portions of Mrs. Obama’s convention talk was “just absurd.” He also tried to blame Hillary Clinton.
“I mean, this is, once again, an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down,” Manafort said. “It’s not going to work.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to discuss the similarities.
Dr. Ben Carson, a Detroit native who has become a Trump surrogate since ending his own presidential campaign, defended Trump’s wife in Tuesday interviews with reporters inside the Republican National Convention hall in Quicken Loans Arena.
“I haven’t seen evidence that there’s been a word-for-word lift of that speech,” Carson said. “What we should be really talking about, and celebrating, is the fact that both Democrats and Republicans value the same kinds of principles.”
Carson said Melania Trump shares “common ideals” with the first lady.
“Are they similar ideals? Yes,” he said.
Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, said Tuesday she thought Melania Trump “was elegant and outstanding” and she bashed media coverage of the speech.
“If only they gave the same attention to Hillary’s emails that they gave to Melania's speech last night, the world would be a great place,” McDaniel said at the start of the Michigan delegation’s Tuesday morning breakfast.
Former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson, a Trump delegate, agreed.
“She hit the ball way out of the park,” Johnson said about Mrs. Trump’s speech. “This play on words is BS. I mean. come on. I say them kind of things all the time.”
The White House declined to comment on similarities between the two prime-time speeches, but the issue is likely to arise at the daily White House briefing.
The passages in question came near the beginning of Mrs. Trump’s roughly 10-minute speech. Her address was otherwise distinct from the address that Mrs. Obama gave when then-Sen. Barack Obama was being nominated for president.
In Mrs. Trump’s speech in Cleveland, she said: “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 and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life.”
In Mrs. Obama’s 2008 speech in Denver, she said: “And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: like, you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, that 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.”
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said he would “probably” fire his speechwriters if they lifted passages from someone else’s remarks. Priebus told reporters at a Bloomberg breakfast that the controversy was a “distraction” but said he expected the convention to get back on message Tuesday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tried to tamp down the controversy, saying “93 percent of the speech is completely different” from the speech Mrs. Obama delivered. Christie said on NBC’s “Today” show that the women “expressed some common thoughts.” He did not explain how he arrived at the 93 percent figure.
Christie, a prominent Trump supporter who was set to speak at the convention later Tuesday night, predicted no one would be talking about the issue after Tuesday.
Another passage with notable similarities that follows two sentences later in Mrs. Trump’s speech addresses her attempts to instill those values in her son.
“We need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow,” Mrs. Trump said. “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 the first lady’s 2008 speech, she said, “Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values and to pass them onto 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 hard for them.”
Trump’s campaign initially responded that Mrs. Trump’s “immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech.” The statement didn’t mention Mrs. Obama. “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,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said.
In an interview with NBC News taped ahead of her convention appearance and posted online early Tuesday, Mrs. Trump said of her speech, “I wrote it.” She added that she had “a little help.”
On the whole, Mrs. Trump presented a softer and gentler candidate. She said: “He is tough when he has to be, but he is also kind and fair and caring. This kindness is not always noted, but it is there for all to see. That is one reason I fell in love with him to begin with.”
The Slovenian-born former model, 24 years her husband’s junior, also reintroduced herself, appearing in a striking white dress with elbow-length sleeves ending in big, puffy cuffs, spoke after an uncharacteristically brief introduction from her husband, who kissed her and called her “my wife, an amazing mother, an incredible woman.”
Detroit News reporters Chad Livengood and Jonathan Oosting contributed