Melania Trump’s night: GOP convention stars first lady
By Steve Peoples, Michelle L. Price, and Darlene Superville
WASHINGTON (AP) — The people closest to President Donald Trump — his family — were starring on the second night of the Republican National Convention as the GOP worked to reintroduce the president to American voters in the midst of the campaign and pandemic.
First lady Melania Trump was delivering Tuesday evening’s keynote address at the White House, while the president’s daughter Tiffany and son Eric were to be featured, too. Trump himself played a significant role even before the formal program began.
For a second consecutive night, his unscripted remarks threatened to overshadow the convention’s carefully crafted message. And there was a separate controversy about one of the speakers, who was pulled from the convention minutes before it began.
Returning to a favorite complaint, Trump tweeted about the expected reliance on mail voting by many voters during the pandemic, raising anew the unsupported prospect of voter fraud though experts say mail voting has proven remarkably secure.
“The fraud and abuse will be an embarrassment to our country,” Trump contended.
Meanwhile, the convention’s planned humanizing focus on Trump’s family came as the first-term president labors to improve his standing in a 2020 presidential race he is currently losing. Most polls report that Democratic rival Joe Biden has a significant advantage in terms of raw support; the former vice president also leads on character issues such as trustworthiness and likability.
With Election Day just 10 weeks off and early voting beginning much sooner, Trump is under increasing pressure to reshape the contours of the campaign. But as he struggles to contain the pandemic and the related economic devastation, Republicans have yet to identify a consistent political message arguing for his reelection.
Trump’s political future may depend on his ability to convince voters that America is on the right track, even as the coronavirus death toll exceeds 177,000 and pandemic-related job losses reach into the millions.
In a show of compassion, before Tuesday’s program began Trump pardoned bank robber Jon Ponder, a Black man who has founded an organization that helps prisoners reintegrate into society.
“We live in a nation of second chances,” Ponder said, standing alongside Trump in a video posted by the White House.
Convention organizers had promised an uplifting and hopeful message the night before as the convention began, but that was undermined by dark and ominous warnings from the president and his allies about the country’s future if he should lose in November.
Early estimates suggest that fewer voters are watching Trump’s nominating convention than the Democrats’ affair last week.
The featured final hour of Trump’s opening night was seen by 15.8 million people across the top six television networks, according to the Nielsen company. That’s down from the 18.7 million who watched Biden’s first night.
Beyond the president’s family, the speakers included a former Planned Parenthood official who became an anti-abortion activist, and a Kentucky high school student whose interaction last year with a Native American man became a flashpoint in the nation’s culture wars.
Mary Ann Mendoza, an Arizona woman whose son, a police officer, was killed in 2014 in a car accident involving an immigrant in the country illegally, was pulled from the program minutes before the event began. She had directed her Twitter followers to a series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial messages.
While much of the night was expected to focus on delivering red meat to Trump’s largely white base, the program also offered a look inside the Republicans’ urgent need to expand his coalition.
There were barrier breakers like Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the first African American to hold statewide office in Kentucky, and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, first Latina to hold that office in her state.
And the convention lineup featured a Democrat for the second night: Robert Vlaisavljevich, the mayor of Eveleth, Minnesota, praised Trump’s support for his state’s mining industry in particular.
“President Trump is fighting for all of us. He delivered the best economy in our history and he will do it again,” Vlaisavljevich said in prepared remarks.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the nation during an official overseas trip in Israel.
Pompeo’s taped appearance breaks with decades of tradition of secretaries of state avoiding the appearance of involving themselves in domestic politics. That his video was filmed in Jerusalem, where he was on an official foreign trip, has raised additional questions of propriety.
Overall, there were more than a dozen speakers planned for the evening’s prime-time program, most of them appearing in prerecorded video or inside a largely empty Washington auditorium. But there was one intended star.
“Tonight is the first lady’s night,” said campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
Out of the public view for much of the year, Mrs. Trump was stepping into the spotlight to argue for a second term for her husband — while trying to avoid the missteps that marred her introduction to the nation four years ago.
At her 2016 convention speech, she included passages similar to what former first lady Michelle Obama had said in her first convention speech. A speechwriter for the Trump Organization later took the blame.
Only the second foreign-born first lady in U.S. history, Mrs. Trump, 50, is a native of Slovenia, a former communist country in eastern Europe. She became Trump’s third wife in 2005 and gave birth to their now 14-year-old son, Barron, in 2006 — the year she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The first lady was to speak from the renovated Rose Garden, despite questions about using the White House for a political convention. She was expected to address an in-person group of around 50 people, including her husband.
Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are keeping a relatively low profile this week. In a tweet Monday night, Biden offered a simple message to his supporters: “Just stay focused, folks. Let’s get to work.”
Peoples reported from New York. Price reported from Las Vegas. AP writers Kevin Freking and Zeke Miller in Washington and Dave Bauder in New York contributed.
The Associated Press 2020