CLEVELAND (REUTERS) – Accusations of plagiarism in a speech by Donald Trump’s wife dominated the Republican convention on Tuesday (July 19) just when the party was hoping to focus on the formal anointing of her businessman husband as its White House nominee.
Melania Trump’s address to the convention in Cleveland on Monday night contained a section that was strikingly similar to words delivered at the Democratic convention in 2008 by the woman she hopes to succeed as first lady, Michelle Obama.
As critics accused her of lifting passages from that speech, a Trump campaign official suggested the similarity was the result of an error by Melania Trump’s speech writers. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he would probably fire the writer if that were the case.
The controversy raised questions about the Trump campaign’s attention to detail as he squares off against the larger, more organised operation of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and seeks to win the job of president on Nov 8.
Melania Trump’s speech followed rowdy scenes on the floor of the convention on Monday, the first day of the gathering, when Trump opponents staged a failed attempt to force a vote opposing his candidacy.
Trump, a real estate developer and former reality TV star who has never held elective office, is trailing Clinton in many polls after a bruising Republican primary season. The party is trying to turn attention to its formal declaration of Trump as its presidential nominee on Tuesday night.
Convention organisers are worried about political protests in Cleveland but so far demonstrations have been peaceful.
Gunshots were heard near a police transportation vehicle by the site of the convention on Tuesday, police sources said.
No injuries were reported.
Three women were arrested after climbing a flagpole near the convention site and hanging an anti-Trump banner.
Trump ally Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, sought to defend Melania Trump by pointing to the parts of the speech that were not controversial.
Asked on NBC’s Today show if as a former prosecutor he could make a case for plagiarism from the speech, he said, “No, not when 93 per cent of the speech is completely different from Michelle Obama’s speech, and they express common thoughts.
“I think after tonight we won’t be talking about this, we’ll move on to whatever comes up tonight,” he said.
A small section of Melania Trump’s roughly 15-minute address closely resembled a part of Michelle Obama’s speech eight years ago in support of Barack Obama, who was then campaigning for president.
Melania Trump, a Slovenian-born jewelry designer and former model, talked about passing on to the next generation the value of hard work that she inherited from her parents and said “the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” Her words closely echoed those of the Michelle Obama in 2008.
Democrats said the speech showed that Trump’s team is not ready for prime time.
“Real amateur hour,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Obama, told CNN. “They screwed up the first night.”
Trump himself made no mention of the accusations about plagiarism in a Twitter post early on Tuesday, saying simply: “It was truly an honour to introduce my wife, Melania Trump last night. Her speech and demeanor were absolutely incredible. Very proud!”
Melania Trump’s big night failed to draw in bumper audiences to the major TV networks. Preliminary data from ABC, NBC and CBS showed some 10 million Americans watched during the time she was on stage, down from the roughly 11 million people who watched the first night of the Republican convention in 2012.
Trump’s campaign has been marked by frequent controversy over his rhetoric on immigration and trade that has alarmed many in the Republican establishment.
Party officials are hoping to use the convention to smooth out some of his rough edges and present him to the country as a job creator and a strong hand to combat national security threats and violent crime at home.
Trump’s vice-presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, urged the party to put divisions behind it after the primary season, in which Trump beat 16 rivals for the nomination.
“The time has come for us to come together, the primaries are over. It was a big stage up there with a lot of extrodinary talented men and women,” Pence said at an event for conservatives in Cleveland.
“My fellow conservatives, It’s time for us to come together. Come together around this good man and reelecting Republican majorities in the House and the Senate.”
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top US elected Republican, was to formally put Trump’s name forward later on Tuesday to be the party’s nominee.
The candidate was to receive the blessing on stage of other senior Republicans, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Both Ryan and McConnell need Trump to do well in the November election as they seek to preserve majorities in Congress.
The theme of Tuesday’s convention event was entitled “Make America Work Again,” and speakers were to take aim at Obama’s record on the economy.
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort took a swipe at Clinton, saying there was a “political tint” to the fuss over the Melania Trump speech. “It’s just another example, as far as we’re concerned, that when Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she tries to do is destroy the person,” Manafort told reporters.
The Clinton campaign said it had nothing to do with unearthing the similarities in the speeches.
“Nice try, not true,” Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s communication director, wrote on Twitter, adding that blaming Clinton was not the answer for every “Trump campaign problem.”
The speech was mocked on Twitter, with users playfully attributing well-known quotes and song lyrics to Melania Trump using the hashtag #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes.
The tag was shared roughly 20 times per second on the social media site on Tuesday morning, according to social media analytics firm Zoomph.
In further fallout from the speech, British rock band Queen complained that the Republicans did not have authorisation to use its 1977 anthem We Are The Champions, which convention organisers played before Melania Trump took to the stage.
But Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said in a tweet the party had paid to license the use of the song in the arena