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Tonight, shortly after the conclusion of the second night of the Republican National Convention, the Twitter account of noted political satire program The Daily Show pointed out what appeared to be evidence of Donald Trump Jr. lifting a portion of his speech from an article published in the American Conservative, just one night after his stepmother Melania was caught plagiarizing part of her speech from one given by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic Convention:
Fourteen minutes after that, Frank H. Buckley, the author of that American Conservative story, implied in a Twitter post that he had in fact helped baby Don write his speech:
Except it wasn't stealing...— Frank Buckley (@fbuckley) July 20, 2016
He then affirmed that implication in statements given to the press:
F.H. Buckley tells @businessinsider: "I was a speechwriter for this speech. So I'm afraid there's no issue here."— Brett LoGiurato (@BrettLoGiurato) July 20, 2016
But Trump Jr.’s speech did not reuse just one passage of Buckley’s work. As the video above shows, there were at least three instances of Trump directly parroting Buckley quoting himself. The first two come from Buckley’s book The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America (from which his American Conservative article was adapted), and the third is from a column published on Real Clear Politics on June 2.
Here are the passages/phrases in question:
Trump: Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now, they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers.
Buckley: What should be an elevator to the upper class is stalled on the ground floor. Part of the fault for this may be laid at the feet of the system’s entrenched interests: the teachers’ unions and the higher-education professoriate. Our schools and universities are like the old Soviet department stores whose mission was to serve the interests of the sales clerks and not the customers.
Trump: The other party gave us a regulatory state on steroids.
Trump: We’ve produced the thickest network of patronage of any country at any time in world history.
Of course, this sort of self-recycling poses a different and less serious ethical question than Melania Trump’s wholesale and uncredited use of phrases from an old Michelle Obama speech. But speechwriters don’t generally cherrypick phrases from their previously published work, says Jon Lovett, who served as a speechwriter to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
“No, it’s not standard practice for a speechwriter to copy his favorite lines from his own columns to pad a speech for a national convention,” he wrote in an email to Gawker. “This really isn’t that hard.”
The Trump campaign would probably be proud to know they are bucking Washington’s standard practices, but their willingness to cut corners on things as basic as their stated beliefs calls into question whether they actually have any beliefs. And it boggles the mind that, in the wake of Melania Trump’s humiliation last night, no one in the Trump campaign bothered to perform a simple plagiarism check (there is software!) on the speeches prepared for the next family members hitting the stage.
It’s even more baffling that Buckley—who was presumably aware that the speech he served up to Don Jr. contained previously owned sentences—didn’t raise an alarm in the wake of the first night’s unpleasantness. Buckley told NBC that he simply didn’t think to notify Trump Jr. or his father’s campaign that he had re-used phrases from his old work:
Did Buckley tell Don Jr about reused part? "It never occurred to me. I'm a speechwriter. This is what speechwriters do" he tells @KatyTurNBC— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 20, 2016
Video by Tim Burke