Who ultimately inserted Michelle Obama’s words into Melania Trump’s convention speech? At the root, there can only be two options:
- Melania herself.
- A speechwriter.
The first would be more understandable. If Melania had asked to write the speech herself—as she said she did—you could see how she might have looked over past speeches given by potential first ladies at conventions and decided to slip a part of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech into her own. It would have been a naive decision, but the logic follows itself easily.
A professional speechwriter having done so makes for a far more tangled ball of yarn. That person would have been risking his or her career to cut corners on a speech that you have to assume would be fairly easy to write, in that it required no comments on policy or anything else substantive, falling back instead on vague platitudes derived from Melania’s easily gussied-up life story.
But that reading assumes that the speechwriter meant well—that he or she wanted Melania Trump to deliver winning remarks, and hoped the plagiarism went by undetected. That could be true, but it still doesn’t really make sense. Why would a professional speechwriter write an entire speech except for three or four sentences, which were instead pulled from an analogous Michelle Obama speech, the transcripts and video of which could be found in the span of seconds by anyone with internet access?
In this line of thought, we are left with one likely explanation: Sabotage.
But orchestrated by who? Unlike the question of who literally wrote Michelle Obama’s words into Melania Trump’s speech, this one has far more possibilities—as many as the brain can imagine. Maybe the RNC asked one of its foot soldiers to be the hero America needs. Maybe the DNC paid off a speechwriter deep in gambling debt. Maybe Donald Trump himself placed the offending phrases into the speech as a means of divorcing Melania and moving on to an even younger fourth wife.
The options are endless, but one towers above the rest: That Corey Lewandowski, the ex-Trump campaign manager who was unceremoniously fired amidst a power struggle, got one of his loyalist lackeys to put the plagiarized words into the speech as a means of ousting current campaign manager Paul Manafort, setting the stage for him to return to power just in time to save the campaign from its most vulnerable position yet.
There is no indication that Lewandowski was actually behind Melania’s slip-up, but...
Lewandowski has reason to get back at Manafort, who successfully leveraged the press to paint the Lewandowski-led faction of the campaign as disorganized and irresponsible. Back in June, Manafort led his own thinly veiled coup attempt through the media, so it would make sense for Lewandowski—who now has a plum perch at CNN—to do the same.
But it doesn’t stop at Manafort. Perhaps Lewandowski has an even more sinister motive: to exact revenge on Trump’s family himself. When Trump unceremoniously fired Lewandowski back on June 20, reports quickly emerged that his ouster was driven by Trump’s children, who offed Lewandowski with the swiftness of a mob hit. Via New York’s Gabriel Sherman:
According to two sources briefed on the events, the meeting was a setup. Shortly after it began, the children peppered Lewandowski with questions, asking him to explain the campaign’s lack of infrastructure. “They went through the punch list. ‘Where are we with staffing? Where are we with getting the infrastructure built?’” one source explained. Their father grew visibly upset as he heard the list of failures. Finally, he turned to Lewandowski and said, “What’s your plan here?”
Lewandowski responded that he wanted to leak Trump’s vice-president pick.
And with that, Lewandowski was out. Trump has long viewed announcing his running mate at the GOP convention next month as a valuable card to play. He was shocked that Lewandowski didn’t have any other ideas. Shortly after the meeting, Lewandowski was escorted out of the building by Trump security.
Lewandowski has continued to support Trump publicly, but you could understand how he still might hold a grudge against the man’s children. What better way to get back at them then by humiliating their family, while also making Manafort look like the disorganized and incompetent one in a single fell swoop?
This morning, CNN had Lewandowski on air to talk about the plagiarism fiasco in his unique capacity as Trump’s one-time campaign manager. The first thing he did was to go out of his way to flatter Melania Trump, calling her an “extremely articulate, smart, successful woman.”
[There was a video here]
You notice here that Lewandowski goes off-script. The question posed to him was: “How is this speechwriting process supposed to work?” But instead of answering that he lavishes over-the-top praise on Melania, which has a dual function. It is exactly what you imagine Donald Trump would want to hear, while also implicitly placing the blame elsewhere inside the campaign.
Later in the discussion, Lewandowski was asked directly about Manafort. Here is that back-and-forth:
[There was a video here]
The first thing to take note of is that CNN specifically teed up Manafort. “It could go all the way to the top,” the anchor says. “All the way to the top would be Paul Manafort.” This is, of course, patently false: The top of the Trump campaign is Donald Trump. “Do you think the buck stops with Paul Manafort on this?” Lewandowski is asked. He responds:
Well I can tell you when I was the campaign manager, the buck stopped with me and I’m sitting here with CNN now. The buck stops somewhere at the top, and what I think is at the end of the day, when you’re the convention manager you’re in charge of the convention. And so there is no detail too small, particularly when you are looking at scrutinizing the GOP nominee’s wife to give the largest speech in front of 35 million people, there is no detail you should overlook.
You can see here his obvious reluctance to suggest that Donald Trump could bear any responsibility for his wife’s plagiarism. Further, Lewandowski relies on the notion that no detail is too small, but that’s intuitively untrue—there is no way a convention could ever come to be if a campaign manager had to personally vet and approve every small detail. Lewandowski is essentially arguing that Manafort should have personally Googled every line in Melania’s speech to make sure none of it had been plagiarized, which sounds nice but is patently unrealistic.
A follow-up question is asked: “Paul Manafort, you’re saying bears some responsibility?” Lewandowski replies, “I think someone at the staff level does and I think Paul is at the top of that.”
The fixation on Manafort as a proxy for Trump feels unusual—you rarely, if ever, hear Hillary Clinton’s campaign manger, Robby Mook, mentioned on TV, let alone discussed ad nauseam—but it could not have been set up any better for Lewandowski, who in the ultimate role reversal gets to play the measured, sober political insider looking down on the chaotic Trump campaign, and, oh, couldn’t they just use some accountability.
Also in her speech, Melania Trump literally quoted Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” saying of her husband: “He will never, ever give you up. And most importantly, he will never, ever let you down.”
She got fucking Rickrolled at the Republican National Convention! Of course it was sabotage.