CLEVELAND — Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said that it would be “reasonable” to fire Melania Trump’s speechwriter if it turns out that part of her remarks were plagiarized from those of a speech Michelle Obama gave in 2008.
Speaking to reporters at a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg on Tuesday, Priebus defended Melania Trump, calling her speech “inspirational,” and he predicted that the controversy would be a mere distraction for a half of day. He said that he had yet to fully look at the remarks and compare them to a passage from a speech that Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention.
But asked if he would fire the speechwriter if he were in the same circumstances, Priebus said, “Probably. But again, it all kind of depends on the circumstances and how these things are written.”
He said that “certainly I wouldn’t blame her” for the similar passages.
“I know what the campaign’s statement is on it,” Priebus said. “I won’t repeat that. But I think it certainly seems reasonable” to fire the speechwriter.
Jason Miller, senior communications adviser for the campaign, released a statement late on Tuesday saying, “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. Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort told CNN on Tuesday that “to think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”
Her speech provided a softer, more compassionate view of her husband. It was contrast to some of the other speakers on Monday night, who focused on security, Benghazi and immigration, at times rousing the crowd to anti-Hillary Clinton chants.
Melania Trump, however, steered clear of red meat attacks, and perhaps helped divert attention from a raucous protest on the floor earlier in the day over rules for the convention.
But about an hour after she gave the speech, stories broke about the similarities between the speech and one that Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Priebus said that “the distraction gets you a off message a little bit this morning, but I think that we will get back to action this afternoon.”
He said that he had read the passages “real quickly,” but would take a closer look later in the morning. He said he didn’t “know anything about how the speech was written.”
“The media is going to analyze it and talk about it, 24/7 cycles is going to continue,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to last. I think it is a topic for this morning.”
Priebus also defended Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), who is not participating in the proceedings in Quicken Loans Arena even though he presides over the convention’s home state. Manafort on Monday told reporters at the Bloomberg breakfast that Katich was “petulant” for not backing Trump and “embarrassing” his state.
“I think John Kasich views the convention as a party for the presumptive nominee,” Priebus said. “Certainly he has been at odds with Donald Trump, and he has to make his own decisions. It doesn’t mean he’s not a great governor. It’s a separate issue.”
He added, “What it means is that campaigns get hot, and rhetoric gets hot, but I don’t agree that he’s those things. He’s a great governor.”