Melania Trump on Tuesday delivered a stirring call for unity and understanding during a difficult time when Americans are grappling with dual crises of the pandemic and the subsequent economic collapse during her speech.
The first lady’s speech to the Republican National Convention was a stunning contrast to the dark and divisive messaging that led up to her address in the White House Rose Garden late Tuesday night. She was of the few speakers who offered deeply felt condolences to the families of the nearly 180,000 people who have died in the US and expressed her gratitude for the many first responders who have been on the front lines dealing with the more than 5.7 million coronavirus cases in the US.
“I want to acknowledge the fact that since March, our lives have changed drastically. The invisible enemy Covid-19 swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us,” Melania Trump said, as her husband sat in the front row of an audience that did not appear to be socially distanced.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.”
She said her husband’s administration would “not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone.”
“Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic,” she said.
The first lady gave an uplifting speech reflecting on her work with children, her “Be Best” initiative, her second-term agenda and some of her favorite moments of the past three-and-a-half years as she made the case President Donald Trump should be reelected.
In the address, she turned the page from the plagiarism controversy that surrounded 2016, when the Trump campaign acknowledged that passages from her remarks had been taken from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention, in what was framed as an innocent mistake by a writer who helped her with the speech.
The first lady offered her thanks Tuesday night “to all of the health care professionals, front-line workers and teachers who stepped up in these difficult times. Despite the risk to yourselves and your own families, you put our country first and my husband and I are grateful.”
While many speakers – including the Trump children – argued that Joe Biden would destroy American ideals and values, bringing the US into an apocalyptic future, Melania Trump said she didn’t want to use the precious time she had been allotted to attack the other party.
“As you have heard this evening, I don’t want to use this precious time attacking the other side,” Melania Trump said, alluding to the Democratic National Convention. “Because as we saw last week, that kind of talk only serves to divide the country further. I’m here because we need my husband to be our president and commander in chief for four more years. He is what is best for our country.”
Instead, she addressed the protests and racial unrest in America after the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for more than seven minutes following a routine call to police about a $20 counterfeit bill.
“Like all of you, I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country. It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history,” she said. “I encourage people to focus on the future while still learning from the past.”
Rather than vilifying the demonstrators, as her husband has done so many times this spring and summer, she urged American to come together in a “civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals.”
“I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice, and never make assumptions based on the color of a person’s skin,” Melania Trump said. “Instead of tearing things down, let’s reflect on our mistakes, be proud of our evolution and look to our way forward.”
Republicans hope that the first lady’s enormous popularity will help address one of the biggest challenges facing Trump in November – his enormous deficit with female voters.
Trump trailed Joe Biden by more than 20 points among women in polls throughout the summer, creating the possibility that he will lose female voters by historic margins in November. The high disapproval of his handling of the pandemic has placed an even greater drag on those numbers and his appeals to the “suburban housewives” of America – a term that fell from favor in the 1960s – do not seem to be helping him gain any traction.
Economic message mixed with culture war appeals
On the second night of the convention, organizers sought to broaden Trump’s appeal by touting economic progress under his presidency, but then zigzagged into efforts to inflame the culture wars in a series of speeches.
As part of the effort to use real American workers to shower praise on Trump, the night featured Jason Joyce – an eighth-generation lobsterman from Maine, who said Biden would bend to the whims of environmental extremists – and Cris Peterson, a Wisconsin dairy farmer who said Trump became president in the middle of the “Great Depression” for her industry.
“Our entire economy, and dairy farming, are once again roaring back. One person deserves the credit and our vote, President Donald J. Trump,” Peterson said.
Larry Kudlow then touted Trump’s economic record and his moves to shore up the economy during the pandemic: “It rocked us all back on our heels. But we’re Americans. We’re fighters. And so is our President,” the White House economic adviser said. “He went straight to work to not only protect our safety and our health – but to preserve our jobs and our livelihoods.”
But among the messages of economic hope were also appeals to the party’s base on issues like religious freedom and abortion.
Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion activist, spoke in graphic detail about how an abortion is performed and her experiences when working in a Planned Parenthood clinic prior to her change of heart.
“This election is a choice between two radical, anti-life activists and the most pro-life President we’ve ever had. That’s something that should compel you to action,” Johnson said, adding that Trump’s supporters must vote “and do it with our most vulnerable Americans in mind – the ones who haven’t been born yet.”
A scheduled speaker was pulled from the program just before it went to air Tuesday after it came to light that she had retweeted a Twitter thread espousing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. The original tweets were sent early Tuesday morning and are now deleted.
Mary Ann Mendoza, whose police officer son was killed by a drunk driver, had been included in a list of excerpts of speakers’ remarks sent by the campaign Tuesday afternoon. But a rundown of speakers sent just before airtime Tuesday did not list her as a speaker.
Pompeo’s speech breaks political norms
Pompeo’s address overlooking Jerusalem was yet another lurch away from official decorum – an example of the kind of move that the Trump team prizes.
In previous administrations, the top US diplomat often avoided the conventions to shield the continuity of US foreign policy from the fury of partisan politics. Yet Trump’s diplomacy – from North Korea to the Middle East and from China to climate change – has often appeared mostly designed to satisfy promises he made to his base.
Officials said Pompeo was not breaking laws, but his decision to speak to the convention is being investigated by Democrats in the House to see if the speech violates the Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from engaging in partisan politics while on duty, in a federal room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia or using a government vehicle.
“The President has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world, and he will not rest until justice is done,” he said. Other nations also suffered when the virus spread from China to their citizens but were far more successful in getting it under control.
The secretary of state also put a gloss on the failure of Trump’s North Korea diplomacy following his photo op summits with Kim Jong Un. He claimed the President had “lowered the temperature” with the Stalinist state. He was correct to say that Pyongyang has halted long-range missile and nuclear tests. But the US granted Kim the concession he wanted most – a meeting with a US leader and his nuclear program is still progressing.
He also hailed Trump’s strike to kill Iranian intelligence chief Qasem Soleimani, praised a new US-brokered breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and highlighted the US exit from the “disastrous” Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran. Like North Korea, the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is further forward than it was when Trump took office.
Trump issues pardon to convention speaker
Half an hour before the night’s convention programming began, Trump announced the pardon of Jon Ponder, a Black former convict who converted to Christianity and now works for prison reform. Ponder had been imprisoned for bank robbery.
“We believe that each person is made by God for a purpose. I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream,” Trump said in a YouTube video filmed at the White House.
Ponder said he had misguidedly believed that the police were his enemies and praised Las Vegas police for social work in assimilating released prisoners and for laying their lives on the line to protect people.
“My hope for our great nation is to continue this path we are on of being the most prosperous country in the world,” Ponder said in the video.
The move appeared designed to highlight Trump’s success in passing criminal justice reform during his first term. But the timing of the pardon also highlighted how the President has used this power under the Constitution in ways that can also benefit him politically.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Tuesday.