The Republicans' Disastrous Day One

The Trump campaign botched the vice-presidential rollout, insulted a key state’s popular governor, saw chaos erupt on the convention floor, and ended with a plagiarism scandal.

Matt Rourke / AP

CLEVELAND—Trump and his four-day infomercial are about to become laughingstocks—unless he quickly figures how to manage an enterprise far smaller and less complicated than the U.S. government.

A divisive first day of the GOP presidential convention turned to disaster late Monday night when the denizens of social media discovered that the candidate’s wife, Melania Trump, had plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. As you can see here, large portions of the speeches overlap in a way that can’t be blamed on coincidence.

The Trump campaign, as if often does, disputed the indisputable.

“Well, there is no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, said Tuesday. “These were common words and values and she cares about her family.”

Before the speech, campaign officials and Melania Trump herself declared the candidate’s wife the primary author. “I read it once over, and that's all,” she told NBC, “because I wrote it, with as little help as possible .”

But at 1:48 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the Trump campaign issued a statement that saddled the blame on unnamed speechwriters without admitting to plagiarism: “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. Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”

Stealing a person’s words can get a college student suspended, a journalist fired, and, as in the case of Joe Biden, a political figure smeared for years with labels like “liar” and “cheat.” That may not be the Trump campaign’s immediate concern; Melania Trump is not running for president. But the way the campaign responds to this intellectual theft will determine whether Donald Trump can salvage success from the Cleveland convention, and, more importantly, this gives voters a window into his leadership.

Can he admit a mistake? Can he hold his people accountable? Can he surround himself with “the very best people,” as he oft claims, and get the best out of them? Does the truth matter, or does he spin, lie, and deflect? If past actions are a guide, the answers are no, no, no, and no. This candidate who benefits directly from Hillary Clinton’s mendacity is the bigger liar.

If Michelle Obama had stolen lines from Laura Bush in 2008, the future first lady would've been pilloried by the media and Republicans.

Trump’s problems in Cleveland go far deeper than a plagiarized keynote address. It all started with Manafort telling multiple TV interviewers early Monday that Ohio Governor John Kasich was “embarrassing” his state for ducking the convention. Kasich is popular in Ohio, and Trump almost certainly can’t win the White House without winning the state.

Then the party’s divisions spilled out on the convention floor Monday afternoon, as rebellious anti-Trump delegates were silenced by the candidate’s forces and a compliant Republican National Committee staff. They rigged the system.

At night, speakers cast Trump as a law-and-order candidate in the tradition of Richard Nixon, whose successful 1968 campaign divided Americans among racial lines. The celebrity billionaire candidate had promised a good show, but the first night of his convention was so poorly organized the delegates streamed out of the arena during the final two speeches, which ran past the magic 11 p.m. hour for television coverage.

Disastrous Day One followed a botched rollout of Trump’s vice-presidential nominee, Mike Pence.

The Republican consultant Steve Schmidt, a veteran of presidential campaigns, looked back on the past few days for MSNBC and chastised the Trump campaign. “Now,” he said, “you have brought scandal to a potential first lady.”

He wasn’t laughing.