Shouting matches, plagiarism claims: Is the GOP convention’s theme Make America Reality TV Again?

"Duck Dynasty's" Willie Robertson speaks at the Republican National Convention on Monday.
“Duck Dynasty’s” Willie Robertson speaks at the Republican National Convention on Monday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“Make America Safe Again” was the official theme of the Republican National Convention’s opening night, but “Reality TV Rules” was its unofficial subtext, down to issues of writers’ credit.

The keynote was delivered by Melania Trump, wife of presumptive nominee Donald Trump, who decided to introduce her himself. Melania, who has kept a low profile during the campaign was, by all accounts, very nervous about addressing the convention; her husband, many commentators suggested, wanted to be on hand to offer his support.

That “support” consisted of Trump entering center stage in silhouette as the Queen hit “We Are the Champions” played, before assuring his supporters that “we are going to win so big” and turning the stage over to Melania.

She proceeded to deliver a graceful, if unemotional, speech that impressed audience members and commentators alike, until Twitter user @JarrettHill pointed out that at least two paragraphs had been lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech.


And social media went wild, a fitting climax to a full day of political theater.

From reality TV stars to Donald Trump’s wife, catch up quick on the opening day of the GOP convention. More coverage at

We are going to win so big.

Donald Trump

Long before the former host of “The Apprentice” took the stage to introduce his wife, the convention that many had predicted would implode simply surrendered to the genre that brought Trump to national attention in the first place.

The speeches began like some through-the-mirror version of the Emmys. “Duck Dynasty’s” Willie Robertson opened with a prayer and a list of things he and Trump have in common — they are rich businessmen with TV shows and smart, good-looking wives. Scott Baio, who went from “Happy Days” to the more recent “Scott Baio is 45 and Single” and “Confessions of a Teen Idol,” reminded “new Americans” that they had to work hard to get what they wanted. Antonio Sabato Jr., star of “General Hospital,” “My Antonio” and “Dancing With the Stars,” spoke briefly but passionately about the importance of strong borders.

More importantly, the entire evening was fueled by the same raw emotion and lack of inhibition that the semi-orchestrated, highly tweetable chaos of reality television requires.

I know I’m not supposed to be up here, but let’s be honest, neither is Donald Trump.

Stephen Colbert

The it’s-only-television festivities actually began Sunday, when Stephen Colbert, tricked out in his Caesar Flickerman wig, pranked convention officials by skidding onto the stage in the Quicken Loans Arena to open, as he said, the “Hungry For Power Games.”

“I know I’m not supposed to be up here,” he said good-naturedly as he was escorted out by security, “but let’s be honest, neither is Donald Trump.”

Hours into the convention, a shouting match between delegates over a proposed roll call on the party platform erupted on the floor; when the motion was denied, the Colorado delegation stalked out. “The noise,” said CNN’s David Gergen, in shock, before cameras dramatically panned over the empty chairs.

Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

Over at MSNBC, meanwhile, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) provided an on-camera moment that the cynical producers of Lifetime’s reality satire “UnREAL” would have considered pure gold.

Defending the whiteness of the convention’s speakers, King asked what contributions, after all, had been made “by these other categories of people that you are talking about. Where,” he wanted to know, “did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

While American Urban Radio Networks’ April Ryan strenuously objected and Chris Hayes all but gasped in horror, King blithely continued to provide a primer in bigotry. “Western civilization itself,” he said, “that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where Christianity settled the world.”

At which point Hayes simply pulled a Ryan Seacrest and cut to commercial.

On the floor, former presidential candidate and long-presumed Republican vice president pick New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie insisted, with the wide-eyed sincerity of any “Bachelorette” contestant, that he was just happy to be here. On stage, a series of speakers angrily marched the tone toward more serious concerns about national security, domestic security and the terrors of a Hillary Clinton administration.

Emotions peaked to near hysteria when former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani described a near-apocalyptic America in which no one is safe. Only Donald Trump, Giuliani said, can save us now.

Shortly after, Trump miraculously appeared, the man behind the curtain came to save the day.

Such a dramatic entrance might seem an odd way to calm anyone’s nerves, but it appeared to work. Describing her youth in Slovenia, the influence of her parents and her entrance to the United States through “the world of fashion,” Melania Trump seemed perfectly at ease, as calm and gracious as her husband is crude and brash.

Certainly there were moments when the goals she described seemed strangely at odds with the actual Trump campaign; her husband, she said, would ensure that all poor children had food, clothing and an education and that people of all religions would be treated with respect.

That only made the charges of plagiarism more delicious — the values she claims she and her husband hold dear are also shared by the Obamas, about whom Donald Trump has little good to say.

But that’s exactly the kind of twisted irony reality TV is looking for; noble intentions are all well and good, but “gotcha” makes the ratings pop.


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