First lady offers sharp contrast to president’s bombast at RNC
Night 2 of the Republican National Convention begins at 5:30 p.m. PDT.
President Trump leaned on his family to help make his case for reelection Tuesday night, using made-for-TV stagecraft and a personal speech by First Lady Melania Trump to try to broaden his appeal while two of his adult children made more partisan appeals to his base.
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, the first lady sought to reassure a country shaken by a deadly pandemic and a deep recession, the president’s greatest political liabilities, showing an empathy that he rarely displays.
While other speakers largely ignored the health and economic crises convulsing the country, she acknowledged the soaring death toll and widespread unemployment, expressing sympathy for the nearly 180,000 victims and their families.
“I know many people are anxious, and some feel helpless. I want you to know you’re not alone,” she said, promising the administration would fight for vaccines and therapies.
She promised that her husband — who she acknowledged was “not a traditional politician” — will not rest “until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic.”
Saying she wouldn’t use “this precious time attacking the other side,” the first lady avoided the hard-edged attacks on Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, and the blame-shifting that had dominated the convention’s first two nights.
She declined, for example, to refer to the coronavirus as “the China virus” as the president and other speakers did repeatedly.
President Trump sat, arms folded, with others on the lawn as his wife also acknowledged the deep pain caused by systemic racism, a problem that he has repeatedly inflamed since taking office, including during recent protests over racism and police brutality in hundreds of cities.
Earlier, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo interrupted a diplomatic mission to Israel to appear by video at the convention, blurring the line between partisan politics and U.S. diplomacy, a move that already has sparked a House ethics investigation.
Trump also leveraged the White House for political gain, appearing in two taped segments to issue a pardon to a convicted bank robber and to oversee a naturalization ceremony for five men and women, an event that appeared at odds with the president’s harsh anti-immigration policies.
The second night of the RNC featured muscular appeals to conservative activists, pocketbook voters and a sustained rewriting of the president’s record on a host of issues.
Pompeo praised Trump’s success in defeating the Islamic State caliphate and bringing home U.S. hostages. But he overstated Trump’s incomplete efforts to broker a substantive trade deal with China and his stalled efforts to negotiate a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea.
Speaking from Jerusalem, Pompeo said America is “more secure, because President Trump has put his ‘America First’ vision into action. It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it has worked.”
Two of the president’s adult children, Eric and Tiffany Trump, echoed Monday night’s rousing, grievance-laden remarks by their brother, Donald Trump Jr., and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who framed the election choice in stark dystopian terms.
“In the view of the radical Democrats, America is the source of the world’s problems,” Eric Trump said. “The Democrats want an America where your thoughts and opinions are censored when they do not align with their own.”
His speech was filled with falsehoods: that Trump has brought peace to the Middle East and that Biden wants to “defund the police.” Biden has said the opposite.
He also claimed that his father, who enacted a travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries, would stand with “all people of faith.”
Tiffany Trump, who graduated last year from Georgetown Law School, acknowledged the uncertainty that recent college graduates now face.
“As a recent graduate, I can relate to so many of you who might be looking for a job,” she said. “My father built a thriving economy once, and believe me, he will do it again.”
The reliance on so many Trump family members reflects just how much the president’s personal political brand has subsumed not just the convention, but the GOP as a whole, upending decades of conservative orthodoxy in some cases.
Most speakers ignored the pandemic. The president’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, referred to the contagion — which is still killing hundreds of Americans a day — in the past tense, and promised that economic recovery would come quickly, a prospect that few economists see as likely.
Kudlow urged undecided voters to think beyond the two candidates’ personal qualities, which figured heavily in Democrats’ messaging at their convention last week.
“You see,” he said, “it’s not the personalities that concern me, it’s the policies.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was one of only two prominent elected officials to speak. Paul lauded the president’s 2017 tax bill and his efforts to pull back from foreign military engagements.
“I don’t always agree with him. But our occasional policy differences are far outweighed by our significant agreements,” said Paul, who has sometimes clashed with the president. Trump, he added, “gets things done.”
The night also saw a lineup of everyday Americans, who put a positive, personal gloss on Trump’s policies, mainly those affecting the economy.
A lobster fisherman from Maine, dairy farmer from Minnesota and CEO of a Wisconsin steel company all touted Trump’s deregulation of environmental rules and actions on trade, although their speeches were sprinkled with lines to needle Democrats and satisfy the GOP base.
Jason Joyce, the fisherman, said he didn’t back Trump four years ago but praised his reversal of an Obama administration order that put thousands of square miles of ocean off limits to commercial fishermen.
“Although Maine’s lobstermen don’t fish there, Obama’s executive order offended us greatly,” he said. Under Trump, he added, “fishing families like mine will have a voice. But if Biden wins, he’ll be controlled by the environmental extremists.”
And a small-town mayor from Minnesota’s Iron Range — a registered Democrat — offered support for the president’s stewardship of the economy, which polls indicate remains a Trump advantage over Biden.
“This is particularly hard for me to say ... because I am a lifelong Democrat,” said Robert Vlaisavljevich, the mayor of Eveleth, Minn. “But for far too long, members of both parties allowed our country to be ripped off and taken advantage of, especially by China.”
Viewing for the GOP’s gathering on Monday also fell short of last week’s opening night for the Democratic convention.
The family’s support for the president may serve as a counterweight to recent unflattering portrayals of Trump by other family members.
The president’s niece, Mary Trump, published a blistering bestseller this summer, spilling a number of family secrets to support her claim that Trump is a mendacious narcissist who doesn’t care about other people.
She based much of her reporting on secretly recorded conversations with the president’s older sister, retired federal Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who harshly criticized her brother’s behavior in office as cruel and unprincipled.
Four years ago at the Republican convention in Cleveland, Melania Trump’s address was quickly found to have been plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic convention address, an embarrassing error that she blamed — after two days of evasions and denials — on her speechwriter.
On Tuesday morning, an advisor to the first lady said in a television interview that Mrs. Trump had written “every word” of this year’s speech herself.
Eric Trump also has run into controversy this week. On Monday, New York’s attorney general asked a judge to force him to be deposed as part of a civil investigation into the Trump Organization, which he now oversees, and whether it improperly inflated its value in government filings to qualify for economic and tax benefits.
Late-night TV host Stephen Colbert was among many who had a bewildered reaction to “vengeful banshee” Kimberly Guilfoyle’s RNC remarks on Monday.
The night’s program mixed efforts to broaden the Trump coalition with emotional appeals to his base. But some of the individuals selected to help sell the president’s policies beyond his political base have espoused views that are far outside the mainstream.
Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who is now an antiabortion advocate, lambasted the organization as “racist” and said Trump has “done more for the unborn than any other president.”
But her past comments — supporting “head of household voting,” which would disenfranchise women; and suggesting that police were smart to profile her son who is biracial, claiming he is “statistically” more likely to commit crimes than her other children, who are white — have made her a lightning rod for controversy.
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, serving in what has long been a nonpartisan office, speaks to the RNC in the middle of an official visit to Israel.
Another scheduled speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, an “Angel Mom” who was scheduled to describe her son’s death at the hands of a drunk driver who was undocumented and praise the president’s crackdown on immigration, was cut from the lineup after she retweeted an anti-Semitic thread from a QAnon conspiracy theorist suggesting a world domination plot by Jews.
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