Analysis: How plagiarism flap hurts Trump

Story highlights

  • The Republican Party convention is taking place this week in Cleveland
  • David Gregory: Donald Trump's calling card is that he's a straight shooter

David Gregory is a CNN political analyst, author of "How's Your Faith?" and host of "The David Gregory Show" podcast. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Hypocrisy hurts. Donald Trump's team has spent the first two nights of its convention making the case that voters should reject Hillary Clinton because she lies. At the same time, though, the Trump team hasn't looked like it has been upfront about the fact that some of Melania Trump's comments were lifted from Michele Obama's 2008 convention speech.

Interviewed by CNN's Chris Cuomo Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Trump campaign chief strategist Paul Manafort denied what seemed clear to everyone's eyes. On Wednesday morning, he was still criticizing Cuomo and CNN for obsessing about the issue to the exclusion of other matters at the convention. By early Wednesday afternoon, seeing the damage this was doing, the campaign came clean, admitting that a writer in the Trump organization was the guilty party.
    Critics have already pointed to what they say is a pattern: Trump and his team failing to level with the American people when faced with distracting or damaging revelations.
    All politicians do it, some may be tempted to argue. Maybe. But the problem for Trump's team in relying on this argument is that his calling card is that he's a straight shooter. As a result, his case against Hillary Clinton just got weaker. What's more, campaigns teach voters something about what kind of president a candidate would be in the face of scrutiny or crisis. So what have they learned about Trump and his team this week?
    Worse still, this could have been dealt with swiftly by copping to it, taking the lumps and moving on. After all, what Michele Obama and Melania Trump spoke about are widely held sentiments.
    More broadly, the handling of the issue may also have raised questions about campaign management. Who was this writer working on a speech for the candidate's spouse? Why weren't her remarks more carefully vetted? These are reasonable questions that are being asked, and it's hard not to view this as indicative of the limitations of insurgent campaigns; they simply haven't emphasized or had time to put in place the elements of a professional presidential campaign that might have caught this.
    Voters notice these kinds of things. And they won't necessarily dismiss it as just process. The danger for Trump is that they will see it as raising questions over how well Trump the businessman runs a big organization and therefore how he might run the federal government.
    CNN's David Axelrod is fond of saying that presidential campaigns are an MRI of the soul. Trump will have to show that this week's uncertainties are not a sign of a serious ailment.
    The good news for team Trump? What really matters this week is still ahead: Donald Trump's keynote speech Thursday night.