Plagiarism controversy plagues Trump at convention

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Andrew Beatty
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Cleveland (AFP) - Donald Trump's presidential campaign came under withering scrutiny Tuesday, after a nightmare start to the Republican convention capped by an embarrassing plagiarism scandal that tarnished his wife Melania's prime-time speech.

After an opening day in Cleveland that was marred by a vocal and very public rank-and-file revolt by anti-Trump delegates, Melania's address was meant to get the show back on track.

The conventions are designed to champion the party candidate, rally the grassroots and propel the party toward November's election.

With millions watching on television, the Slovenia-born former model delivered an eloquent and seemingly heartfelt defense of her husband.

"Donald is, and always has been, an amazing leader," said the 46-year-old. "Now, he will go to work for you."

But there were unmistakable similarities between her remarks and a speech given by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic convention.

While the controversy burned for 12 hours and social media erupted with mocking commentary, the Trump campaign appeared paralyzed.

Denials of wrongdoing, followed by tacit admissions, followed by attempts to insulate Melania only added to the picture of a campaign in chaos.

Campaign chair Paul Manafort described the whole kerfuffle as "absurd," and Trump's supporters seemed unperturbed.

"There's just a passion for Donald, and his wife knocked it out of the park," said Robert Antonacci of the New York delegation.

"Who cares? It was her speech. I don't believe for a minute that Melania and Donald were sitting around going, 'Hey, let's plagiarize Michelle Obama's speech'."

- 'Very proud' Trump -

Trump himself was ultimately forced to come out in his wife's defense.

"It was truly an honor to introduce my wife, Melania. Her speech and demeanor were absolutely incredible. Very proud!" he tweeted.

Earlier, making a surprise cameo appearance at the gathering in Cleveland to introduce his wife, the bombastic tycoon showed confidence that belied the day's drama.

"We're going to win so big" said Trump. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honor to present the next First Lady of the United States."

Republican establishment figures -- whose party was once respected for its discipline and public unity -- are now suggesting the speechwriter be fired and defending Trump as a candidate.

"The distraction gets you off message a little," said Republican party boss Reince Priebus, though he added that he expected the flap to fade quickly.

- Old hands -

As the convention resumes Tuesday, Republican leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives will now be tasked with stopping the bleeding.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be keynote speakers.

More than most, they have been responsible for holding the Republican Party as populist Tea Party conservatives gained clout.

But they now find themselves atop a party that has shifted to the right and with a candidate who many party members strongly oppose.

On Monday, some of those members voiced anger on the convention floor when they were unable to register their protest within the rules.

"We deserve to be heard, this is the people's convention!" said Diana Shores, a delegate from Virginia, while pro-Trump delegates tried to drown out the rebels with shouts of "Shame! Shame!"

Other speakers on Tuesday include two of Trump's children, including his daughter Tiffany, who has until now been rarely seen on the campaign trail.

The convention also holds a state-by-state roll call vote, with each delegation confirming the winner in their primary election.

Although a routine procedure, it too could be the scene of further disruptions by anti-Trump factions.

Trump fans insist delegates must heed the will of the grassroots of the party and make him the Republican nominee without equivocation.

The real estate mogul won a thumping victory in a series of statewide party elections, garnering more than 13 million votes -- the most of any Republican nominee ever.

He is due to address the convention on Thursday, at which time he will formally accept the party's nomination.