In all great political dynasties — say, the Trumps, Bushes, Kennedys, Corleones and Clintons, among others — there are always “I, Claudius”-meets- “House of Cards –like elements of infighting, intrigue and betrayal.
Certainly, this week’s unconventional Republican convention put a spotlight on Candidate Trump’s family, in an attempt to humanize the guy.
So pardon me, because I know that the story of Speechgate has finally been put to rest. But it struck me that for a guy who claims “I cherish women. I want to help women,” as he told CNN's Jake Tapper last year, Donald J. Trump sure didn’t act like an aggrieved husband, or even a Ted Cruz-level ethicist, during that entire stretched-out time of self-inflicted weirdness.
Of course, the 36-hour wait for a plagiar-vention also serves as an all-time “what not to do” in crisis management.
But while Ivanka has served as his trusted surrogate in many roles, including wife and VP, and will introduce her dad in a historic turn tonight, it just seems odd that the candidate never defended his wife from the certain humiliation she was facing. He merely tweeted about how much attention the whole mess was getting him in the press. “Good news is Melania's speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!” he tweeted.
There’s only one superstar in the Trump universe.
And this became obvious on the first night of the convention, when, before he introduced his wife, the presidential nominee had a thunder-stealing entrance: He appeared first as a silhouette in fog, walking into the light, part Beyonce, part Wrestler, part Jesus, walking on water.
Meanwhile, Melania, a former model, was hugely telegenic, exuding a modern-day Jackie Kennedy-like elan. Wearing a white, bell-sleeved designer dress that could best be described as socialite bridal, it was as if she wanted to appear on the screen as someone new, a virginal but sophisticated Mrs. America, married to the country rather than Mr. Trump.
The content of the speech seemed to be boilerplate political wife. She sold it in her delivery, and the camera loved her, cheekbones gleaming and smoky eyes glistening.
She even went over with evangelicals. “She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, she’s submissive to her husband,” Carol Thomas, a delegate from East Baton Rouge, La. said afterward. “She has a very anointed message for women.”
That’s when the damning side-by-side comparisons of her speech with Michelle Obama’s in 2008 starting surfacing.
Trump left the job of responding to the press to his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, whose name aptly translates to “strongman.”
Manafort could easily have ended the whole scandal immediately by apologizing, saying it was an inadvertent error, and that he’d look into it.
Instead, in a preposterous defiance of what our eyes and ears had proven, Monafort blamed Melania and Hillary Clinton for the error in one fell swoop. “She was speaking in front of 35 million people last night; she knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy. I mean, it’s so — 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,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
But if anyone was demeaning Melania, it was the Trump campaign itself.
Someone from the campaign would have had to have checked the speech before it was fed into the teleprompter; and using a plagiarism software program is standard practice for any speechwriter. Why weren’t those precautions taken?
It all seems pretty poignant when you consider that Melania, who has stayed home from the hustings with 10-year-old son Barron, decided not to use the work of two male speechwriters, a well-respected team whom Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband, had hired for the job. Perhaps Melania felt she needed to exercise her own agency and power.
Instead, she decided to work with Meredith McIver, who was a staff writer inside the Trump organization, with whom she felt comfortable. (No one was aware that this move was illegal because McIver didn't officially work for the campaign.)
The story told by McIver, who finally came forward to apologize and offer her resignation — and wrote that Trump refused to accept it, saying, “everyone makes mistakes” — didn’t exactly square, either. How could she possibly not have watched the video of Michelle’s speech if she was going to use any similar sentiments?
It’s a mystery. In taking the fall, McIver is the Rose Mary Woods of the 21st century. For that matter, why couldn’t Trump have addressed the “everyone makes mistakes” sentiment to Melania?
The sad thing is, if Melania had been honest, she could have delivered a barn burner of a story about coming here as an immigrant from a Russian satellite nation, where life was very limited under Tito. But that would have brought attention to the Communist thing. And it would have seemed less glamorous than talking about her modeling days in Paris and Milan.
She obviously couldn’t quote Michelle Obama in her speech, because our present First Lady is a Democrat and a black woman. Indeed, the base only wants to talk about how Mrs. Obama hates America.
Whereas the sentiments Melania lifted -- about her life and husband -- came from the heart for Michelle. Actually, I remember watching Mrs. Obama deliver that speech, and being disappointed in how she seemed to simplify her story and make it all about being a wife and mother. (I guess she was making herself and her husband seem more relatable, and less threatening.)
In coming up with anecdotes about her life with her husband, or why she loved him, all Melania had to do was also speak from her heart. Or tell a single anecdote about his goodness. And she didn't — or couldn't — which is also telling.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, who has been vilified all week (“lock her up!"), faces her own challenge in coming up with a title for her spouse, the very first First Man. There’s no precedent from which to crib for Mr. Bill’s speech, if he indeed makes the roster next week. Although, I don't imagine he'll be at a loss for words.