GELFAND’S WORLD--The major take-home lesson from this week's events is that Donald Trump isn't really all that smart after all. This becomes evident (and even obvious) when you look at this week's convention. It's also becoming increasingly obvious that Trump's spin doctors are either stupid themselves or so much under Trump's control that they aren't allowed to do necessary things like, for example, owning up to errors. In the face of obvious plagiarism in a major convention speech, the best tactic would have been to say "Oops" and throw some relatively unknown speech writer under the bus. Instead, the campaign went with "see no plagiarism, hear no plagiarism."
Let's also consider what the news media missed in reporting on Melania Trump's speech. I think it's evident that Melania didn't entirely understand the sentences she was having so much trouble reading. I invite you to look and listen carefully to the alternate performances (all over YouTube), one the 2008 original and the other the 2016 counterfeit. Listen to Melania's reading of the plagiarized paragraphs, which was, as best I can tell, without a real feel for what she was saying. You can see it in her hesitations as she searches for the next words on the teleprompter, and then as she gives a wooden reading of what had originally been spoken with infectious enthusiasm by Michelle Obama.
But Melania Trump had earlier told a reporter, "I read it once over, and that's all because I wrote it with as little help as possible." Melania's English is slightly broken even in this short comment (didn't she really mean, I read it over once?), so it's obvious that she needed a lot of help just to put grammatical sentences on paper. What she was reading is obviously not her own style of speaking, and it showed. I don't think we expect future First Ladies to be great rhetorical stylists, but the easy arrogance with which Melania lied about writing the speech is telling. It's part and parcel with the campaign and with her husband's easy use of falsity.
All of this is, paradoxically, a modest defense of Melania Trump. I don't think she would have figured out to steal Obama's wording, because it is way above her English language ability. What's strange is that she didn't notice the inserted paragraphs. This failure to recognize the copied words would be even stranger had she taken a serious role in crafting the speech.
The important point about this story is how the Trump campaign handled it. They could have taken a lot of the heat off by telling a bit of near-truth, as long as they did it immediately. "We goofed. Our writers let Melania down. She wanted to make a particular point, and as part of the writing process, they stuck in some filler, parts of an old speech, and worse yet someone else's speech, and forgot to replace them with fresh words that accurately reflect Melania's heritage."
See how easy that is? Even I can write it. And it didn't take me all that long, although I'm not creative enough to have thought of comparing Michelle Obama's words with the My Little Pony story. That took a lot of Googling on somebody's part at the RNC headquarters. That this line of defense was tossed up by an RNC Communications Director shows just how walled off from reality this campaign is. Perhaps Donald should be campaigning on building a wall against reality instead of a wall against Mexicans. It would be a lot more believable.
When the campaign spokesman told that magic pony story, I was reminded of a classic Jane Curtain - Dan Ackroyd skit on Saturday Night Live, the one where Ackroyd plays a sleazy businessman trying to defend his practice of selling bags of broken glass to children as toys. The logic of Bag O' Glass was equally as compelling as what we heard coming out of the mouths of serial Republican apologists.
Following in the "you can't make this up" category, there was Ted Cruz doing a little getting even with The Donald by avoiding an actual endorsement. As of this writing, Sen. Ted Cruz is being castigated by the party faithful for inviting people to vote their consciences. The party faithful have a point. Kicking the party's nominee in the groin, at least figuratively speaking, isn't something a featured speaker is supposed to do at his party's national convention. During the speech, Cruz was booed, and after the speech, his wife was almost physically attacked.
Some pundits have claimed that both Cruz and Trump got what they wanted -- Cruz got to embarrass Donald on the big stage and jump start his 2020 campaign, and Donald got to watch Cruz being booed off the stage. If either or both of these inferences are true, then it reveals a deep lack of political professionalism on both sides.
The 2016 Republican National Convention is on track to set a Guinness Book of Records entry for most traditions violated, starting with Donald Trump's public intrusion in nearly every public festivity. Melania's goof, which could have been repaired by a little bit of timely near-honesty, has ballooned into a continuing point of discussion, even if the people inside the convention hall are doing their best to pretend that they've never heard of the word plagiarism.
There are a few take-home lessons from the first three days of the convention.
The first is that Donald Trump isn't all that good at administering things. As they say in the law, res ipsa loquitur -- the thing speaks for itself. Presidential nominating conventions have become all too predictably controlled, but that's for a reason. Since organizational control is something that we want in a president, loss of control is considered to be a negative. The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago was the worst, what with street riots outside and turmoil inside, but for petty ineptitude that isn't linked to a major Asian war, this one wins the gold.
The second take-home lesson is that Melania Trump is a liar. Not a very accomplished liar, and not convincingly intelligent as a liar, but a liar.
The third take-home lesson is that we shouldn't trust anything that the Trump campaign tells us. Ever. The one time they really needed to say something truthful, it didn't seem to enter their minds. They seem to be so embedded in Donald Trump's easy way with falsehood that it took close to 48 hours to develop the scapegoat approach.
The result, to our amusement and their chagrin, is that the Melania plagiarism story controlled the news for two straight days, and continues to show up on sites such as CNN.com even on the last day of the convention.
Television is good at some things. On Monday night, tv stations were already showing the side-by-side footage of Melania Trump and Michelle Obama separated by eight years. Two speakers, two conventions, two different years, but it could have been choir practice for all the difference in the wording. About the best you can say for Melania Trump's stolen passages is that she mixed up a phrase in the middle of one of them.
Late night comedians must be busting a gut laughing. They have easy punch lines for years to come:
As believable as a Melania Trump speech.
As believable as a Trump campaign spokesman.
They blamed it on the Magic Pony.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])