CLEVELAND — One possible winner from this week’s Republican gathering got his convention bounce in a coffee shop, 3,700 kilometres away from the site where Donald Trump became a presidential nominee.
This convention-conqueror happened to be a laid-off journalist hanging out in a Los Angeles Starbucks, chatting with friends on Facebook while streaming video of the exercise in democracy unfolding.
That’s where Jarrett Hill broke the most-talked-about story of his career and managed to not only scoop 15,000 journalists in Cleveland with news that produced many thousands more headlines.
He’s the first to have realized that a Republican convention speech plagiarized the wife of the current Democratic president. The immediate result: After seeking work for 15 months, he’s started receiving a number of invitations to chat about possible job offers.
“I’ve been bombarded with messages telling me how many job offers I was going to get,” Hill said in an interview.
“I’m not exactly sure (how many are solid leads) because I’m still running through a bunch of emails. I would say a handful of emails have expressed a strong interest in having a conversation. Let’s see where it goes.”
He last worked as an ABC producer in Florida. He’s been freelancing since he was laid off. An irony of this week’s events, he says, is that if he’d actually been busy working the convention instead of sitting at Starbucks he might’ve been too tied up to indulge the curiosity that led him to the news.
Hill was listening to Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, when he heard something that tickled his memory receptors. It was an eight-year-old quote from Michelle Obama he’d liked enough to take note at the time: “It kind of came back, like familiar song lyrics.”
So he Googled, “Michelle Obama convention,”’ found the old quotes, posted them online, and lit a brush fire that rippled through the convention.
His subsequent tweet, “Melania must’ve liked Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, since she plagiarized it,” has since been forwarded more than 3,300 times. “(After) around 600 (retweets) is when it started to freak me out. I was like, ‘Something’s happening with this tweet.’ It’s completely out of my hands at this point.”
He closed his backpack, left, and by the time he got home it had been shared a few hundred more times.
Hill said the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. He’s received some angry messages, but they’ve been rare. He also forced the Trump campaign into a confusing two days where it indignantly denied the plagiarism, then finally fessed up and blamed it on an error in communication with Melania’s speechwriter.
Polls over the coming days will show whether the Trump campaign also emerges from this conversion as a winner. A campaign typically gets a post-convention bump of a few percentage points in public support.
In closing out his speech Trump predicted victory: “I am with you, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you!”
His critics within the party are skeptical.
One said Trump squashed the potential benefit by stepping all over his message each day. First it was the plagiarism, followed by denials, then an admission. The economy-themed second night was mostly about bashing Hillary Clinton’s character. Speeches went long, and a popular rookie senator from a swing state (Iowa) was pushed from prime-time.
On the night Trump’s running mate vowed to support America’s allies, Trump offered a seemingly contradictory message to the New York Times; he suggested he might not defend a NATO partner invaded by Russia. Then came a drama overnight where Sen. Ted Cruz avoided endorsing him, got booed, and Trump tweeted in the morning that some of his primary rivals were embittered losers.
Katie Packer, a Republican campaign veteran and founder of an anti-Trump Super PAC, said the PR losing streak began with a rollout of the vice-presidential selection she called “a disaster.”
She described the best-case scenario: “We’ll come out of this maybe tied (in the polls).” But then it’s Democrats’ turn to enjoy the spotlight with a vice-presidential rollout and convention.
The longer-term electoral problem, she said, is Trump’s angry messaging that turns off minority voters and women _ whom a party autopsy from the 2012 defeat cited as key constituencies for Republicans hoping to regain the White House.
“We’ve rejected virtually every single recommendation (of that post-mortem),” Packer told a panel organized Thursday by the website Politico.
“It’s like the whole party following the emperor down the road, not recognizing he has no clothes.”
A few hours later Thursday, Trump delivered his big speech. In introducing him, his daughter Ivanka recited some of the wise words she’d learned from her dad _ including one adage about thinking big.
In a symmetrical bookend to the convention trouble started by Hill, the ghostwriter Tony Schwartz who penned Trump’s book, “Art of the Deal,” tweeted: “(That’s) a line I wrote… Not Donald to Ivanka.”