Paul Manafort, campaign manager to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, is surrounded by reporters in Cleveland, Ohio, July 14, 2016.
Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

Team Trump shows how not to respond to a controversy

Updated
Obviously, the story of the morning is the controversy surrounding Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama in her convention speech, which creates an interesting test for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. A professional operation knows how to deal with incidents like these effectively,
Paul Manafort responded to the controversy on CNN on Tuesday morning, saying “there is no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech.”
 
“These were common words and values, and she cares about her family,” Manafort said.
In case this weren’t quite bonkers enough, Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, added, “This is, once again, an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down.”
 
Yes, Melania Trump’s speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama without attribution, but in Trump Land, (a) reality has no meaning; and (b) this is all Hillary Clinton’s fault. Say hello to the party of personal responsibility.
 
I especially love the assertion that Melania Trump used “common words.” Well, sure, I suppose the individual words are themselves “common,” but in spoken languages, the order in which words appear matters – and in this case, the candidate’s wife used whole phrases that had been previously used by someone else.
 
Unless Paul Manafort is doing his best Baghdad Bob imitation, he may need to come up with some other line of defense.
 
The truly amazing thing is, one need not be an expert in crisis management to come up with a defense. Early this morning, the Trump campaign could have issued a statement, apologizing for the mistake, and blaming some low-level staffer. The story would have still caused a stir – this is a tough thing to get away with given the significance of the convention spotlight – but a quick acknowledgement of wrongdoing could have helped mitigate the damage.
 
But that would be inconsistent with the Trump “brand.” Instead, the campaign is making matters worse by pretending that plagiarism doesn’t mean plagiarism, that we shouldn’t believe our own eyes and ears, and that Team Trump has its own version of reality that the rest of the world is expected to take seriously.
 
These guys have a jaw-dropping habit of taking a bad situation and going out of their way to make matters worse. When Trump lied and said he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on 9/11, the candidate and his team kept the story alive for days with ridiculous denials and made-up claims. When Trump directed racist attacks at a federal judge, the candidate and his team kept the story going by insisting the comments were fair.
 
BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, noting the pattern, added this morning, “The Trump response is to take something that’s a one- or two-day story and push into a week story.”
 
Complicating matters, Republicans can’t even stick to the same script. While Manafort is trying to redefine plagiarism, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is recommending the campaign fire the relevant speechwriter, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is saying it was only a little plagiarism, so no one should make a fuss?
 
Can’t anybody here play this game?
 
Postscript: If my inbox is any indication, a top go-to line for conservatives this morning is that Vice President Biden, as a presidential candidate in 1988, was caught in a plagiarism controversy of his own. That’s true. But let’s not forget that the incident forced him from the race altogether and, at the time, Democrats didn’t pretend the plagiarism didn’t happen.
They also didn’t blame Republicans for Biden’s mistake.

Melania Trump and Republican National Convention

Team Trump shows how not to respond to a controversy

Updated