Michael Wolff at GOP Convention: Melania's Misstep Mars a Trump Dynasty Moment

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Melania Trump's plagiarized speech reinforced the most basic doubts among all the Republican professionals and stalwarts staying away from the convention — that the Trump campaign is a sham, and a fluke, ever-more careening off the tracks.

The most scripted and traditional part of the Trump Republican convention was supposed to be the rollout of the Trump family. Nobody named Trump might ever have been elected to office, but the plan was to present the Trumps here with all the stature and power of a political dynasty. Not just to soften the edges and put a kinder, gentler face on the candidate, but to emerge, full born, as the Bushes or Kennedys.

One part of the convention would be the rough stuff, harsh, negative, real and compulsively watchable — convention veterans in the hall last night noted how odd it was to see delegates actually paying attention — like the weird Fric and Frac routine by the Benghazi security duo, part comedy act, part action-film scenario, or a grim, hell-and-damnation Rudy Giuliani. The other part would be the Trump family, as reasonable, sensitive, well-spoken and anointed people. 

In this, Melania was just the slightly hard to play note, according to family friends. Trump's third wife had not been included very much in the campaign, according to some views, because of her accent, or, according to others, because of a sometimes volatile relationship with her husband. Another inside view was that her story — her career as a former Eastern European fashion model — was hard to play, prompting more questions about her background and their courtship. 

For Trump’s family, his children and their spouses, one unstated purpose of the convention was to distinguish them from him. The Trump name might mean one thing to the Trump base — the bikers out in Settler’s Landing Park yesterday afternoon and the press — but his children meant to suggest that it meant something much different, too, something special, admirable, top-flight. In this, his children’s interest were quite different from his own. 

True, they were all building careers, like their father before them had, off of the Trump name. But, in their own way, prior to the wholly unexpected momentum of Trump's run for the 2016 nomination, they were trying to move away from their father’s overt antics — at least build something more businesslike on it. His sons, Eric and Donald Jr., were running the real estate interests he has little time for. His daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared, had become self-serious socialites working their way up the self-serious socialite ladder. (His more remote daughter, Tiffany, raised wholly by her mother, Marla Maples, was the one perhaps most like him, trying to pursue a Kardashian-like social media career.)

It was their interests and discipline that, as the campaign became more and more of a brand issue for the Trumps, turned into the significant counter force against the surreal nature of Trumpism — with, since the spring, Jared (regarded as the brains of the bunch) more and more watchfully at his side. Their influence and better nature was supposed to take center stage at the convention — to be the larger narrative. This was to be a family at the pinnacle of American respectability and achievement. The Donald Trump of bad dreams was, surely, not all bad if he could have a family like his. 

And then came last night’s wardrobe malfunction.

Until that point — a random, hey-wait-a-minute tweet recalling Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech — Melania was doing vastly better than anyone in the Trump camp, or in his family, seemed to expect. It was indeed the first moment of generosity — she acknowledged and complimented her husband’s opponents — in the convention. It was uplifting and optimistic rather than, as it had been all day on the convention floor, darkness at noon, the end times coming.

The unlikeliness of her in the role of first lady — the Slovenia-born third wife, a quarter century young than her anti-immigrant husband, looking uncannily like his daughter, whose own mother had been an Eastern European model — receded. You could almost hear the “new Jackie” sobriquet attaching to her. (Curiously, before the major, historical wardrobe malfunction was noted, there were murmurs running through the crowd of another malfunction. While the television chyrons covered her from the neck down, in the hall it quite appeared you could make out her nipples, and — as Trump appeared on stage with her after the speech, leering at her and pointing at her chest — that this might be by design, a Trumpian flourish.)

But then the world ended. 

There were rumors that the speech had been closely vetted by Ivanka, fueling more rumors that it had been an inside job, a deliberate act of regicide. Melania, the day before in a taped interview with Matt Lauer, had, alas, said, “I wrote it with as little help as possible.” In this, she seemed to be claiming credit not only for a speech she didn’t write for herself, but one that the person who wrote it for her hadn’t written either. Of course, compounding everything, it was not just plagiarism, but plagiarizing the hated wife of the hated President.

The brief illusion of first ladyhood was shattered, as it reinforced the most basic doubts among all the Republican professionals and stalwarts staying away from the convention — that the Trump campaign is a sham, and a fluke, ever-more careening off the tracks.

But the show must go on. So pay no attention. Indeed, Trump will likely portray it as a personal attack on his wife. More fighting words.

This is not the first time, hardly, that the Trump children and their spouses have had to face the horror of some campaign misstep or moment of total weirdness. And there is not much they can do, but smile and continue to play their roles in the family’s 15 minutes of dynastic triumph, such as it is.

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