Once again, the highlight of a Republican convention night was a Trump family member.
Donald Trump, Jr., gave an impassioned and conservative speech about the problems with big government and the administrative state.
The crowd ate it up.
Once again, the media pounced on a plagiarism scandal.
Except that they messed up the story.
Here’s The Daily Show’s tweet that is going viral, and getting retweeted by journalists:
The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) July 20, 2016
In fact that Trump quote sounds exactly like what George Mason University law professor Frank H. Buckley says about the administrative state. He says it a lot, and not just in the article The Daily Show found.
At first blush it looks like a retread of the previous night’s scandal, where Melania Trump’s speech echoed Michelle Obama’s speech from eight years prior.
The only similarity, though, is that both situations speak to a somewhat amateur campaign operation that doesn’t fine tune messages.
Anyone who has heard Buckley speak in recent months knows that he’s a fan of Trump’s. I personally heard him speak in favor of the Trump operation at the end of April. He’s written things critical of him, too, but he’s definitely a fan.
Um, guys, FBuck probably wrote the speech. It's like Axelrod writing both "Just Words" speeches for Patrick/Obama. https://t.co/gYWSGrDcJl
Mollie (@MZHemingway) July 20, 2016
That’s a reference to the 2008 scandal where Hillary Clinton called Barack Obama out for giving the same speech as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick had two years prior. Obama said he had permission and campaign advisors pointed out that David Axelrod wrote speeches and messages for both politicians.
Sure enough, F.H. Buckley tweeted out:
Except it wasn't stealing…
Frank Buckley (@fbuckley) July 20, 2016
If you’re wondering why the message is so cryptic, this post over at the center-right discussion site Ricochet is probably helpful. It comes from President Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter Peter Robinson. It explains why he almost wrote speeches for Trump before ultimately deciding he couldn’t. This portion is relevant:
A couple of days later, the campaign asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. After having a lawyer advise me—note, by the way, that the lawyer is a Trump supporter, one of the few I know here in Northern California—I declined to do so. To speak to the media, to name one provision, the NDA would have required me to seek approval from Trump’s representatives—in perpetuity. Half my friends are in the media. I might as well have sawn off an arm.
If Buckley is working for Trump in an official capacity, he almost certainly signed such a non-disclosure agreement. Still, he was able to address the rumor and confirm that he wrote the speech:
Just got off the phone with Buckley: "I was one of the principal speechwriters. It's not a problem." https://t.co/I4KINokZFW
Meridith McGraw (@meridithmcgraw) July 20, 2016
Buckley is a talented writer. His latest book, The Way Back, is an enjoyable read, with discursions on all sorts of interesting topics. His knowledge of United States history is extensive and colorful. You can also hear his discussion with Ben Domenech in this Federalist Radio Hour podcast, in which they debate the underlying economic data that forms the foundation of his book. Spoiler: There’s a lot of debate about whether this underlying study was one that should have been used.
As to whether a speechwriter should directly quote himself, or previous work, that’s unwise.
A speechwriter's job is to channel & amplify the speaker's voice. Can't do that by cutting/pasting stuff the speechwriter already published.
Sean Davis (@seanmdav) July 20, 2016
But this isn’t the scandal the media would like it to be.
It would be better for journalists to focus on underlying messages from the convention rather than every shiny distraction that comes their way.