CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention has ignited controversy because it contained a section strikingly similar to words delivered at the Democratic convention in 2008 by the woman she hopes to succeed as U.S. first lady, Michelle Obama.
An official with the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested the similarity in the section to Michelle Obama’s speech may have been the result of an error by her team of speech writers.
Donald Trump made no mention of the issue in a Twitter post early on Tuesday, saying simply: “It was truly an honor to introduce my wife, Melania Trump last night. Her speech and demeanor were absolutely incredible. Very proud!”
Trump has never held elective office and his White House campaign has been marked by frequent controversy over unorthodox policies and freewheeling remarks that have alarmed many in the Republican establishment.
It is a tradition of the party conventions for spouses to offer an enthusiastic personal endorsement of candidates. On Tuesday night, the gathering in Cleveland will formally anoint Donald Trump the Republican presidential candidate for the Nov. 8 election.
It was a small section of Melania Trump’s roughly 15-minute speech, a highlight of the opening day of the convention, that was similar to a part of Michelle Obama’s speech in 2008 in support of Barack Obama, who was then campaigning for president.
“My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect,” said Melania Trump, a Slovenian-born jewelry designer and former model.
“They taught me to show the values and morals in my daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son,” she said.
“And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow, because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
In 2008, Michelle Obama said, “And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect.”
“…And Barack Obama and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generations,” she added.
“Because we want our children, and all children in this nation, to know that the only limit to the height of your achievement is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Before Monday’s speech, Melania Trump told NBC in remarks that were aired on several networks: “I wrote it… with as little help as possible.”
A spokesman for the Trump campaign called the speech a success, but suggested her writers might have mistakenly injected some borrowed language.
“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,” Jason Miller, Trump’s senior communications adviser, said in a statement.
Paul Manafort, chairman of the Trump campaign, played down the similarities in the Trump and Obama speeches.
“There aren’t that many similarities. There are a couple of phrases,” Manafort told CBS News on Tuesday. “It’s basically three places in the speech and it’s fragments of words. She spoke in front of 35 million people yesterday. She knew what she was doing. And she never cribbed from another speech without acknowledging that she was quoting somebody else.”
“There was nothing that she did in that speech that she thought was anybody’s words but herself,” Manafort said.
Asked if she wrote it herself, Manafort said it was a “collaboration” and he didn’t know how much exactly she had written. “But the words of her speech reflect her feelings for her husband, her country and her family.”
“Frankly this was her vision that she wanted to communicate about her husband.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, asked if as a former prosecutor he could make a case for plagiarism from Melania Trump’s speech, replied: “No, not when 93 percent 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,” Christie, a former rival to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination who now supports him, told NBC’s Today show on Tuesday.
(This story corrects to show Melania interview was with NBC, paragraph 13)
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis and Eric Walsh; Editing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)