The first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday didn't waste any time stirring controversy. As her speech was broadcast live on the major networks and around the web, Twitter user Jarrett Hill quickly noticed that a large section of Melania Trump's speech at the RNC was suspiciously similar to Michelle Obama's speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, prompting widespread accusations of plagiarism. The similarities between the two speeches speak for themselves —the question now becomes whether Melania Trump could get in trouble for her RNC speech, and what this means for the future of the Trump campaign.
A major determination in how bad this will be for the Trump campaign is the authorship of the speech. Shortly before the speech on Monday, Melania Trump claimed in an exclusive interview with NBC News that she wrote the speech "with as little help as possible." However, after the Internet quickly started accusing her of plagiarism, the Trump campaign released a statement distancing Melania from authorship of the speech.
"In writing her beautiful speech," the statement read, "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.”
Legally, Melania and the speech writing team are covered. Plagiarism isn't technically a crime or civil offense unless the original material was copyrighted. Michelle Obama's 2008 speech was not copyrighted, so there's no avenue for legal action against Melania. Ultimately, that probably works in the Obama's favor, because pursuing a case against the Trumps would be unlikely to end well for anyone and distract from the ongoing election.
But there's one more court that matters in this case — the court of public opinion — and the Trumps seem to be losing pretty well there without any help from the Obamas. Journalists and media experts have almost unanimously denounced Melania for plagiarism, and the sarcastic hashtag #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes trending on Twitter for hours after the news broke. According to polling data, Trump was already losing pretty badly with the public, but this incident isn't likely to fix that problem.
Although the story may lose heat as the convention progresses, it seems to have struck a deep chord with many for its painful hypocrisy. "Ironically, the plagiarized passages extol values that are undermined by plagiarism," tweeted New Yorker writer Nicholas Thompson, a sentiment echoed by thousands across social media Monday night. There more than likely won't be any legal ramifications for Melania or her speechwriting team, but the dent in the Trump's already damaged credibility is going to stick around for a while.