RNC Chairman Says He'd 'Probably' Fire Melania Trump's Speechwriter
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus defended Melania Trump on Tuesday after her convention speech drew charges of plagiarism, saying he'd "probably" fire the speechwriter if it were his decision.
"I don't blame her," Priebus said of Melania Trump at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast with journalists in Cleveland on the second day of the Republican National Convention. "Some of these things are pretty common types of themes."
The chairman predicted that the controversy surrounding the wife of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump wouldn't last long. "The distraction gets you off message a little bit this morning, but I think we'll get back to action this afternoon," he said, as he praised the speech as a "great immigrant story" and "very inspirational."
His comments were at odds with an assertion from Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. "I don't think Donald Trump feels that there's anything to fire someone about," Manafort said in an interview Tuesday on CBS. To the Associated Press, Manafort said, "Frankly if I knew somebody did it, I would fire them too," but that he didn't see plagiarism in this case. "There were a few words on it, but they're not words that were unique words."
The rare public address by Trump's wife on Monday was intended to draw a more intimate portrait of the candidate, but instead drew charges that her remarks copied those in a 2008 Democratic convention speech by Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama's wife. The situation has created a major distraction for the Trump campaign and the Republican convention machine that Priebus oversees.
In a wide-ranging discussion about Trump's candidacy, the convention, and the party's future, Priebus also was asked to address party infighting. He said he disagreed with remarks made at Monday's Bloomberg Politics breakfast by Manafort, who said Ohio Governor John Kasich is acting in a "petulant" way and "embarrassing" his party by attending only events on the sidelines of the convention in his home state after failing to win the presidential nomination.
"John Kasich is a fantastic governor, one of the best in the country," Priebus said. "Governor Kasich views the convention as a party for the presumptive nominee. He's been at odds with Donald Trump and he's making his own decision, but it doesn't mean he's not a great governor. Those are separate issues."
Priebus downplayed the noisy disruption a vote on convention rules on Monday afternoon that put on full display fissures within the party.
Anti-Trump delegates had been seeking ways to block Trump's nomination, or at least dramatically alter the party's governing rules for the next four years. Neither of those happened after their actions on the floor were blocked.
Priebus said it was "pretty amazing that they couldn't get 28 votes with all of the talk that was going on," a reference to the so-called minority report that could have gotten some of the delegates' goals to the full convention for debate. The minority report would have required support from a quarter of the 112-member Rules Committee.
An effort to force a roll-call vote started with support from nine states, Priebus said, then that level of backing slipped to six after some lobbying.
"I think a lot of people didn't realize that they were actually putting in place a measure to cause a delay in the proceedings, knowing that the votes weren't there to begin with," he said. "If you can't demonstrate a majority of seven states, the rules wouldn't allow for a roll call."
The chairman said he's come to embrace some of the drama that Trump seems to almost constantly draw to his campaign.
"He does so well on earned media," Priebus said, referring to Trump's appearances in the news. "I know some of it is controversial, but also think that all of this whirlwind that surrounds Donald Trump is ultimately beneficial. We saw it in the primary and we continue to see it today."
In a possible reference to the party's last nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Priebus said the party needs to be flashier if it wants to win the White House. "We've tried the button-down, Boy Scout approach," he said. "It didn't work so well, right? OK. We've done that. We've been a great midterm party, but we haven't been able to tap the culture."
At Monday's breakfast, Manafort said Trump's campaign would expand the list of general-election battleground states from the traditional dozen or so to closer to 20, specifically citing Oregon, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Priebus stopped well short of saying the RNC would invest in as many as 20 battleground states, although said the party will be ready to dump additional resources into non-traditional states if there is polling evidence that it's warranted.
"We have a candidate who for whatever reason is doing well in places that we normally don't do well in, and they have some shoring up to do in other places where we have to make sure that we stay competitive," he said.
"We're going to be close in the traditional battleground states," he said. "But, I think, it's also one of these things where we put a couple people in places like Connecticut where we used to do really well, but we haven't lately."
Priebus listed two states that have been traditionally safe for Republicans in presidential elections as ones he's watching closely.
"I always worry a little bit about Arizona and Georgia," he said. "I worry about growth and that's what why I'm just so focused on Hispanics and Asians."
Priebus said the party must do more to reach out to minority voters. Many of those voters have been turned off by Trump's inflammatory rhetoric.
"I think it's important that we get out and talk to Hispanic voters across the country," he said. "I don't think we can win without appealing to Hispanic, black, and Asian voters across this country."
Priebus said elections are decided by "who do you like, who do you want to have a beer with, and who do you trust," areas where the convention will seek to boost Trump's standings.
-- With assistance from Justin Sink and Sahil Kapur.