Presidential plagiarism scandals became a very common sight during the past year in the United States.
The Trump campaign and Presidency have been the center of half a dozen different plagiarism-related stories not counting the Betsy Devos story, the allegations of press release plagiarism and, most recently, Neil Gorsuch’s plagiarism controversy.
But as big of a splash as the stories made in the headlines, they’re yet to have much impact on Presidency. Simply put, other forces have been the deciding factor in President Trump’s political arc.
However, the United States does not have a monopoly on political plagiarism scandals. France, currently mired in its own heated Presidential election, has just been struck by one of its own.
However, that story may seem familiar to many in the U.S. as a divisive right-wing candidate is accused of plagiarizing a former political opponent.
But, while the setup may be similar, the outcome has the chance to be very different.
The Marine Le Pen Plagiarism Scandal
Marine Le Pen is the head of the National Front party in France.
The party is a controversial presence in France and is known as a far-right party that has a history of anti-semitism.
However, despite the controversy, Le Pen was able to secure a spot in the nation’s Presidential run off against centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. Macron is the heavy favorite in the runoff, which takes place on May 7th, but both candidates are campaigning hard in the days leading up to it.
It was during such a campaign stop that Le Pen gave a speech that appears to have broadly copied form an April 15 speech by François Fillon, a Republican opponent that was defeated in the first round of the election.
! Watch this, even if you don't speak French: Le Pen plagiarizing verbatim a mid-April speech from Francois Fillon. pic.twitter.com/JHo5YODxHS
— Taniel (@Taniel) May 1, 2017
Even without speaking french, the similarities, which were first spotted by RidiculeTV, are obvious and striking. According to English-language reports, the two speeches discussed borders, France’s status as a beacon of freedom and its tourism using not only similar ideas, but nearly-identical language.
According to Le Pen’s campaign director, the similarities were intentional and were done as an homage to Fillon and his supporters. However, Fillon had previously asked his voters to support Macron.
With the election less than a week away, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on voters.
However, one thing is for certain, that many in the U.S. will be getting déjà vu over the story.
Comparisons and Contrasts
The comparisons to President Trump and his campaign’s issues with plagiarism are pretty easy to make. Both are right-wing populist candidates that have been involved in plagiarism scandals.
This is especially true since one of Trump’s earlier scrapes with plagiarism involved an op-ed that contained similar text to an earlier work by Ben Carson. Carson, a former primary opponent of Trump’s, had previously dropped out of the race and the similarity was most likely explained by staff members making the jump to Trump’s campaign.
Another involved President Trump’s wife, Melania, and the speech she gave at the Republican National Convention. That speech contained a brief but nearly identical passage to a speech Michelle Obama had given eight years prior at the Democratic National Convention.
But while these stories have obvious similarities to Le Pen’s case, they have obvious differences too.
First, Le Pen’s ordeal is happening with less than a week before voters go to the polls. President Trump’s campaign avoided any significant scrapes with plagiarism from the Melanie Trump speech in July and the election in November.
Second, the nature of the plagiarism is different. President Trump was never accused of plagiarism directly in his speech. Though his wife was, that dealt with a political speech given by an opponent eight years ago, not two weeks.
In the other story, while Ben Carson was an opponent in the same election, that case dealt with an op-ed, which are generally written by the campaign’s staff even though they bear the candidate’s name.
However, the biggest difference is that Le Pen’s story is happening across the Atlantic. The culture of politics and plagiarism is much different there.
Though we haven’t seen significant scandals of this kind in France, Germany has been rocked by many and several high-level Ministers have lost their positions.
Though French and German cultures are, obviously, very different, it’s still likely French voters will have less tolerance for plagiarism than U.S. voters.
To be clear, I can’t offer a real analysis of the plagiarism. I don’t speak French and I’m forced to rely up on English-language news coverage of the story in what little bit I can say.
But one thing I can say for certain is that, as easy and as tempting as the comparisons to President Trump’s plagiarism stories are, they don’t really work. This is a different plagiarism scandal unfolding in a different election in a different culture.
It’s very difficult to say what, if any, impact this could have on the election. This is especially true since Le Pen is so far behind in the polls.
If Le Pen loses it could be because this story torpedoed any chance she had or it could just be the predestined outcome. There’s no way to say.
In the end, the story is a stark reminder of all the pieces in play when a politician is accused of plagiarism. A million factors arise and that makes it difficult to predict just how the story will change the election.
Still, as we discussed before, when you combine a vulnerable candidate with a well-timed and severe scandal, it can change an election almost anywhere.
Whether that’s true here is something we’ll have to see this Sunday.