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Trump will need to clear static from his convention

Controversies at the RNC
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Side-by-side comparison of Melania's and Michelle's speeches

CLEVELAND — Donald Trump did not get what he needed from the first day of his convention. He has three more tries.

Trailing presidential candidates need their nominating conventions to delivering broadly appealing messages with a minimum of static interference. This one opened with lots of static.

The first bit of interference came from Trump's own campaign chairman. In a breakfast with reporters, Paul Manafort accused Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has declined to endorse Trump or attend the convention, of "embarrassing" his state.

That note of unprompted discord was followed by a boisterous protest on the convention floor. Anti-Trump forces, having failed to "unbind" delegates in a long-shot bid to dislodge the nomination from the New York billionaire's hands, sought a roll-call vote on convention rules to register their displeasure.

When the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee steamrolled their plan, the dissenters unleashed a torrent of boos that undermined the candidate's attempt to demonstrate party unity.

Convention planners had more control over the evening program, the theme of which was to "Make America Safe Again." A series of speakers ripped President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for weakness at home and abroad — including the mother of a Benghazi victim who said she blamed Clinton personally for her son's death.

Donald Trump appears onstage in a blaze of lights at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016.
Mike Segar | Reuters

But some of the rhetoric may have been too strident to appeal beyond a Republican base that already loathes Obama and Clinton. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was unusually animated in voicing anger at Democratic leaders and their approach.

The hope of Trump aides was that Melania Trump — introduced in theatrical fashion by her husband — would soften the convention's edges by praising her husband's caring, kindness and generosity. The presumptive Republican nominee has struggled especially with women voters.

She performed her role with notable poise for someone who normally shuns the spotlight. But some critics quickly found passages borrowed from Michelle Obama's speech at the same point in the 2008 Democratic convention.

That was embarrassing, if not especially important. Melania Trump is not on the ballot.

But the episode underscored the weakness of Trump's thinly staffed campaign, as well as questions about the authenticity of Trump's own message. And by Tuesday morning, the Trump campaign had managed to call more attention to the controversy by denying that Melania Trump had borrowed the passages at all.

Republicans hope for better on Tuesday, when the topic shifts to the economy and the theme of "Make America Work Again."