CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention met in Cleveland this week with the goal of projecting a platform of fiscal conservatism, strengthening national security and presenting an overall commitment to “Make America Great Again.”
But a handful of controversial speeches, prime-time disagreements over rules and other distractions have dominated much of the news cycle, potentially hindering the GOP’s ability to present a policy-based message.
In the most highly publicized problem, Melania Trump, wife of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, delivered a keynote speech Monday night that was well-received by those attending the convention. But its success was shortly overshadowed by controversy when striking similarities between her speech and Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention were revealed.
The allegations dominated the news cycle Tuesday, with staffers of the Trump campaign denying accusations of plagiarism. They said the Hillary Clinton campaign dredged up the claims for controversy and that Melania Trump, instead of copying Obama’s speech, only used “common words.”
Finally on Wednesday, Meredith McIver, an employee of the Trump Organization, took responsibility for the incident in a press release and said that she offered to resign from the campaign, a gesture she said was rejected by the Trumps.
Dwight Patel, an at-large delegate for Trump from Maryland, said the around-the-clock coverage of the incident by national news organizations is just “typical left-wing media attacking Republicans.”
In Patel’s view, the media would have found a negative aspect of Melania Trump’s speech to harp on no matter how it went.
“I think this is the media’s war on Republicans in general,” said Patel, the second vice-chair of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Republican Central Committee. “If it wasn’t (Melania’s) dress, it would be that her hair wasn’t right.”
Diana Waterman, the Maryland GOP state chairman, agreed, saying the accusations of plagiarism are a “non-issue,” and that Melania Trump was simply expressing feelings that are universal among potential first ladies.
“I don’t believe that the goal was to plagiarize; the goal was to say the things that are important to her,” Waterman said. “I think the focus (from the media) needs to be more on her husband and Governor Pence and their plans.”
Shawn J. Parry-Giles, interim director of Graduate Studies in Interpreting & Translation at the University of Maryland, said the drama surrounding the candidate’s wife’s speech — as well as a failed call for a roll call vote from opponents to Trump that sought to delay the convention — raise questions about the nominee’s campaign infrastructure.
“I think that the larger concern is whether or not they are prepared for this convention,” she said. “The first night, they had a lot of issues; they weren’t prepared to handle the disunity and this issue of plagiarism that no one caught before the speech went live.”
But U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, said the convention “couldn’t have gone better” so far.
Harris added that the majority of voters aren’t concerned about the drama around Melania Trump’s speech, calling it a “pure invention of the media.”
“Americans have a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who lied to Congress and lied to the American people,” Harris said. “I don’t think they care about going word-for-word in Melania Trump’s speech to see if something she said was ever uttered by someone else in history.”
Another speech, given in this case by Trump’s former rival, Dr. Ben Carson, also drew criticism, and negative media attention.
In his speech Tuesday night, Carson referred to Saul Alinsky, a writer widely considered to be the founder of modern community organizing, when he said Hillary Clinton “has as (her) role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer.”
And the criticism continued when New Hampshire State Rep. Al Baldasaro, an adviser to the Trump campaign on veterans’ issues, took Clinton-bashing one step further.
During an appearance on WRKO radio from the convention Tuesday, Baldasaro said that Clinton should be “put in the firing line and shot for treason” for what many Republicans consider her slow response to and misleading comments about the cause of the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead.
The comments came after Michael Folk, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, tweeted Friday that Clinton should be “hung on the mall in Washington, D.C.”
He later apologized for his remarks.
Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, said using such vitriolic language, while potentially appealing to voters who already despise the Clintons, is unlikely to draw in independent and undecided voters.
“Using words like ‘firing squads’ or ‘hung and killed,’ those are off-putting,” Nataf said. “I don’t know if independents will be drawn to people using those hostile words. It’s too much.”
For Nataf, the attention placed on those comments, as well as the controversy around Melania Trump’s speech, highlight the media’s expectation that the business mogul and those he surrounds himself with in his campaign are unreliable.
Until Trump and his campaign can prove otherwise, Nataf said, it is likely that similar stories that suggest disorganization will continue to pop up.
“The media is going to focus on the unforced errors because that’s what they are expecting,” Nataf said. “It’s the narrative; it’s Trump and his circus.”