CLEVELAND — In what was only her second time speaking on the campaign trail, Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, sought to soften her husband’s rough edges in a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, describing him as an inclusive and successful businessman with a “big heart” who loves his family and his country.
But the would-be first lady’s speech was first overshadowed by her husband, who took the stage in rock-star style, appearing at first in silhouette as he marched out in a bright column of light to the pulsing soundtrack of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” Then, after the speech had ended, came the allegations that she had borrowed lines from a speech that Michelle Obama delivered at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Word of the similarities quickly spread on Twitter, where users noted that Melania Trump had used phrases similar to the first lady’s in describing her upbringing and work ethic.
— Javier Panzar (@jpanzar) July 19, 2016
In a statement, Jason Miller, a Trump campaign spokesman, did not address the plagiarism allegations. But he appeared to shift focus to campaign aides who helped draft the speech. “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,” Miller said. “Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”
But that conflicted with comments Melania Trump had made earlier Monday to NBC’s Matt Lauer. “I wrote it… with as little help as possible,” she told NBC.
It was an odd turn of events for Melania Trump, who has mostly been a silent presence on the campaign trail. At a rally in April in Milwaukee, she gave her only other remarks, offering a minute-long defense against charges that her husband treats women with disrespect.
On Monday, she spoke for about 14 minutes longer than that — explaining her personal journey, as someone who came to the United States from a small town in Slovenia to find modeling work. She spoke of her love for fashion, family and the United States, describing her U.S. citizenship, which she obtained a decade ago, as “the greatest privilege on earth.” “The only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them,” she declared in one of the lines that echoed Michelle Obama’s speech.
But mostly, Melania Trump focused on her husband, delivering remarks that were carefully crafted to rebut critics who have accused her husband of running a campaign driven by racially charged rhetoric.
“Donald intends to represent all the people, not just some of the people,” Melania Trump said, speaking softly, with a distinct accent. “That includes Christians and Jews and Muslims. It includes Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians and the poor and the middle class. Throughout his career, Donald has successfully worked with people of many faiths and with many nations.”
Her husband’s success in business indicates “inclusion rather than division,” she said.
She spoke of her husband as a dogged “fighter” who has expressed love and concern for his country as long as she has known him. It was, she said, one of the reasons she fell in love with him. She said Trump “never ever gives up” and declared that, if he wins the presidency, he would use that tenacity to serve all Americans.
“Like no one else, I have seen the talent, the energy … the simple goodness of the heart that God gave to Donald Trump,” she added.
Unlike her husband, who often spends a huge chunk of his stump speech bragging about all the Republicans he vanquished in the primary campaign, Melania Trump pointedly praised her husband’s former rivals. Hours after Trump’s Republican opponents made a last-ditch effort to force a vote to deny him the party nomination, she called on the party to unite behind her husband.
As she wrapped up her speech, she stepped back slightly from the podium and gave a shy wave. Donald Trump quickly returned to the stage and gave his wife a long kiss on the cheek.