The protesters don't know the half of it.

Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Convention's Unifying Theme So Far: Incompetence

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor of National Review and the author of “The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.”
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While Melania Trump was speaking, I tweeted that she was giving a perfectly serviceable speech about someone who did not bear much resemblance to her husband. I was thinking of her description of him as a unifier governing in the best interests of all Americans, including Muslims, and her failure to tell a single story to illustrate his alleged virtues.

But it turns out that I was more correct than I realized: Part of Mrs. Trump’s speech was ripped off from one by Michelle Obama, and so the words she was using were originally written to describe Barack Obama.

Trump is campaigning less on a platform than on his own managerial excellence. He will hire the best people and make the best deals, he tells us. Melania Trump’s prime-time plagiarism undermines that story. It is another sign that he is not running a minimally competent campaign.

Controversy over the plagiarism, and the Trump campaign’s excuses for it and denials of it, have dominated coverage of the first stage of the Republican convention. That can’t be what the Trump campaign wanted. But then it’s a little hard to know what it wanted.

Traditionally the role of a political party’s convention is to unify it and excite it for the campaign to come. Campaign manager Paul Manafort chose, however, to attack the popular Republican governor of a must-win swing state on day one. He went after John Kasich for not endorsing Trump, saying that Kasich had embarrassed his state -- simultaneously drawing attention to and exacerbating the party’s disunity.

Party unity would also have been served by a different approach to anti-Trump delegates, although this screw-up may have been the fault of the Republican National Committee more than the Trump campaign. Those delegates were denied a roll-call vote on the convention’s rules, and the process by which they were denied it was not transparent.

The alternative would have been to allow a roll-call vote, which the anti-Trumpers would almost certainly have lost. Then some of the losers could be asked to tell reporters that they had been treated fairly but that most delegates were with Trump. Some of them would have played ball. But instead of doing any of that, the Republicans appeared to be operating from a playbook Manafort got from his dictator clients.

A roll-call vote, it’s true, would have impinged on the convention’s schedule, maybe even going into prime time. It would have been no great loss. Last night had only one and a half good speeches. Rudy Giuliani, agree or disagree with his content, made an effective attack on Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Trump’s speech, though pedestrian, would have been counted as a success, too, if its banalities had not been borrowed.

This is a stunted convention. Many Republican politicians have found somewhere else to be. You might have thought that Trump could at least bring some celebrities to Cleveland; but in fact Mitt Romney’s convention outdid him for star power. (Scott Baio is no Clint Eastwood.) The theme of the first day of the convention was supposed to be “making America safe again.” It turned out instead to be political incompetence.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net