CLEVELAND — When the opening night of the Republican National Convention ended, Donald Trump’s advisers were exuberant – thrilled with Melania Trump’s sparkling debut and confident that Rudy Giuliani and other speakers delivered the ideal combination of fire, emotion and reassurance.

An hour later, they were in crisis mode.

The potential first lady’s address – the night’s highlight – was suddenly under attack because of apparent plagiarism. By morning, the campaign’s efforts at damage control added up to a series of conflicting explanations. The episode reopened divisions among Trump’s advisers and allies, who have been feuding all year.

Added to that were questions for Trump’s team about the choreography of opening night.

Why had they not ended the night with Melania Trump’s powerful speech?

Who had vetted the rambling speech by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, which prompted so many delegates to walk out that the closing act by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa – a rare next-generation star willing to address Trump’s convention – came in a mostly empty arena?


Then there were the day’s earlier developments: the brief revolt on the convention floor from rebellious anti-Trump delegates over a procedural dispute, as well as Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s decision to begin a weeklong push for party unity by publicly chastising Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the Bushes over refusal to support Trump.

The first 24 hours of Trump’s convention left Republican strategists – some of whom have long been at odds with his team – befuddled and concerned about the capacity of the Trump team to run an effective general-election operation against the machinery of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“Talking to operatives here, the mood is something between grim resignation and the Donner party,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant who ran the super PAC behind the unsuccessful candidacy of former Florida governor Jeb Bush.


John Weaver, a party strategist who has feuded with Manafort, wrote in an email: “This was probably the worst first day of a national party convention since the Democrats gathered in Miami Beach in 1972. You would think it can only get better, but with this campaign, one never knows.”

Trump allies hoped Tuesday that the problems would be forgotten by week’s end.


“Ultimately it comes to Donald Trump on Thursday night delivering a pointed, presidential speech, balloon drop, so that people can see Donald Trump in the White House,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview Tuesday.

What has transpired over the past week is more than mere stumbles. The rollout of vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence was widely criticized, while planning for the convention appeared chaotic.

Underscoring the concern is that these were self-inflicted mistakes in two major events over which the campaign has near-complete control.

“I don’t think we should be Pollyanna-ish about the organizational shortfalls we’re witnessing here,” said Alex Conant, a senior aide with Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “Every aspect of the campaign is lacking, and I don’t think anybody should be surprised by the first 24 hours of the convention.”

plagiarism charge DARKENS MOOD

The mood within Trump’s campaign turned from ebullient to dark quickly late Monday night. Manafort and other campaign officials were seen receiving congratulations from fellow operatives – in particular for Melania Trump’s speech.


Once Trump’s team was back at their hotel, CNN and MSNBC turned to intensive coverage of the plagiarism story. Parts of her speech were almost identical to parts of Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

“It’s plagiarism. It’s flat-out plagiarism,” David Axelrod, the chief strategist of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, said just after midnight on CNN.

In overnight text messages and conversations, Trump’s advisers expressed indignation at the news coverage and began to call the plagiarism allegations unfair and absurd.

Manafort and campaign spokesman Jason Miller crafted the campaign’s initial statement, which landed in reporters’ inboxes at 1:48 a.m.

“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,” read the statement attributed to Miller. “Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”



The statement conflicted with what Melania Trump told NBC News Monday night. Asked by Matt Lauer if she had practiced it, she said, “I read it once over, and that’s all because I wrote it with as little help as possible.”

Trump’s representatives reached out weeks ago to John McConnell and Matthew Scully, two respected speechwriters and veterans of George W. Bush’s White House, asking them to draft a speech for Melania Trump. Scully’s involvement was first reported by The New York Times.

McConnell and Scully delivered a draft to the campaign several weeks ago. The Trump team decided on a different direction and the speech Melania Trump delivered Monday night bore no resemblance to the original draft, according to a senior Donald Trump adviser who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

By sunrise Tuesday, the campaign was in overdrive to squelch the controversy. Rushing to Melania Trump’s defense was Manafort.

His tone at a news conference Tuesday morning was defiant and dismissive. He declined to identify any individuals involved in the writing of Melania Trump’s speech, nor did he report that any disciplinary action had been taken.

Manafort insisted on CNN that “there’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values that she cares about.”


He accused the media and the Clinton campaign of distorting her message. “It’s just another example as far as we’re concerned that when Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy the person,” he said.

There is no evidence that the plagiarism allegations originated with the Clinton campaign. The first connections appear to have been made by a Huffington Post contributor.

Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri criticized Manafort for accusing the Democratic campaign. “Nice try, not true,” she said in a tweet.

In the tightly scripted world of politics, it is highly unusual for a mistake such as plagiarized paragraphs to slip into a speech of this magnitude, said Matt Latimer, another veteran speechwriter who worked in the Bush White House.

“It’s total amateur hour,” Latimer said. “In the Bush White House, this speech would have been drafted six to eight weeks ago and it would have been vetted by 15 to 20 people before the first lady ever saw it.”

Republican leaders were hard-pressed to deliver a consistent response.


Asked Tuesday whether he would fire a speechwriter under these circumstances, Priebus said, “Probably.”

Defenders pointed to previous examples of plagiarism in political speech. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich noted that both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have survived criticism over lifting the words of others.

Of the scrutiny over Melania Trump, he said, “It’s a little much.”

Trump’s team tried to look ahead. At the news conference, Manafort all but begged reporters to ask him about something other than Melania Trump.

“We’re just going to move on,” he said.

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