Listening to faux-outraged pundits talking all day about how Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech illustrates the dysfunction of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Convention, I can’t help but think they have it all wrong. The damage done by her speech has nothing to do with campaign disaster and everything to do with the fact that it reinforced two powerful stereotypes.
One is a stereotype of Melania Trump: that she’s a trophy wife who brainlessly parrots whatever she has been told to say. If she isn’t that — and for all I know, she isn’t — her word-for-word repetition of a section of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech sure made her sound that way. Those video clips that splice her speech back to back with Michelle Obama’s speech do even more damage. Melania Trump sounds shallow and silly echoing the first lady, as though she doesn’t actually have an authentic thought of her own.
But the real problem is for Donald Trump himself. Is he really a Republican? Does he even have any political convictions? Isn’t this all a marketing scheme? I’m pretty sure that he isn’t, he doesn’t and it is — but even if you feel differently, the fact that Trump’s wife stole language from an Obama –and not from Nancy Reagan or Laura Bush — sure reinforces that view. In the same way that Hillary Clinton’s email problem shores up a popular image of her as shifty and willing to break the law, Melania Trump’s plagiarism hurts because it plays into things that Donald Trump’s enemies, and his supporters, secretly or openly fear to be true.