WASHINGTON (Reuters) - First lady Melania Trump led an array of Americans making the case at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday for re-electing President Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden in November. Here is a takeaway from Tuesday’s program:
DIFFERENT TRUMP, DIFFERENT TONE
Giving the most consequential speech of her brief political career, Melania Trump did her best to provide an alternative – and sometimes contrary - voice to her husband and her party.
Where other convention speakers either mentioned the coronavirus pandemic in passing or did not bring it up at all, the first lady expressed her deep sympathy for those who had suffered during the crisis. Where others have dismissed Black Lives Matter protests as the product of lawless mobs, she acknowledged the country’s troubled past with race relations.
In doing so, she tried to do what few others this week have: speak to women and other voters in battleground suburban areas where her husband is trailing in opinion polls. Other prominent women who spoke during the evening, most notably Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, followed the Republican script, bashing Democrats and the media while making little attempt to connect emotionally with voters at home.
Melania Trump pointedly refused to criticize Biden and his party and spoke as a “mother” in worrying aloud about the impact of social media on children. (That her husband is frequently called a bully on Twitter went unmentioned).
She remains a somewhat reluctant and unpolished speaker on the public stage – which showed through on Tuesday. But if undecided voters were looking for some vestige of compassion from an administration often accused of having little, her speech gave them that.
MADE FOR TV
The president, a onetime reality TV star, added some new surprises to the mix on Tuesday. In pre-taped segments as part of the convention, Trump pushed the very limits of presidential decorum, utilizing the trappings of his office to promote his re-election campaign.
Earlier in the evening, Trump signed a pardon for a Black ex-offender who started a re-entry program for inmates. Later, he presided over a naturalization ceremony in which several immigrants were granted citizenship, with an appreciative audience and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, standing by. Both segments were filmed at the White House.
Left unsaid: Trump has made curbing legal and illegal immigration part of his policy agenda and continues to push for the wall at the southern border with Mexico.
Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, had a simple goal in his address on Tuesday night: Convince viewers that the American economy had sprung back to life again – even if it hasn’t.
A strong economy was the Republican president’s biggest asset coming into the campaign, but the coronavirus pandemic sank that narrative. On Tuesday, Kudlow spoke as if the pandemic had passed and that all was well again, arguing that Trump had “successfully fought” the outbreak.
There was no mention of jobless claims climbing past the 1 million mark last week, the unemployment rate remaining above 10%, or consumer confidence hitting a six-year low. Nor was there mention of the millions who lost jobless benefits after Congress was unable to agree on an extension of relief programs, or talk of the more than 177,000 U.S. deaths from the pandemic.
Most notably, Kudlow was speaking from his Connecticut home, not from Washington or the Republican convention site in Charlotte, North Carolina – a reminder that the virus remains with us.
On a night when Melania Trump gave her signature address of the 2020 campaign from the White House in a bid to appeal to suburban women voters, two other women who were on the convention speaking schedule may have done that cause no favors.
Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion advocate, and Mary Ann Mendoza, a fierce critic of illegal immigration whose son was killed by a drunk driver who was in the country illegally, were to speak back-to-back at the convention from an auditorium in Washington. Both have courted controversy.
But the Trump campaign said Mendoza was pulled from the schedule after tweeting a link on Tuesday to a lengthy anti-Semitic conspiracy thread. She apologized on Twitter, saying: “That does not reflect my feelings or personal thoughts whatsoever.”
Johnson, who has a biracial son among her eight children, said in a YouTube video in June after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, that when her son is grown, police officers would have to be more careful around him, the Daily Beast reported.
“Statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons,” she said, despite studies showing systemic biases in the criminal justice system that disproportionately punish Black men.
Johnson has also said on Twitter than she supports “household voting” – in which each household has a single vote, potentially denying a woman an individual vote.
Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney
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