WASHINGTON - First lady Melania Trump portrayed her husband as an authentic, uncompromising leader in a Rose Garden address Tuesday night as President Donald Trump turned to family, farmers and the trappings of the presidency to boost his reelection chances on the second night of the scaled-down Republican National Convention.
Mrs. Trump’s remarks, like much of the night’s prime-time program, offered a polished portrait of Trump’s presidency — at odds at times with the crises, division and unforgiving actions of his tenure in the White House.
Showing a more forgiving side with millions of voters watching, the president pardoned a reformed felon and oversaw a naturalization ceremony for several immigrants in the midst of the program, though he frequently states his vigorous opposition to more immigration, legal as well as illegal.
“In my husband, you have a president who will not stop fighting for you and your families,” said Mrs. Trump, an immigrant herself. “he will not give up.”
Mrs. Trump and two of his five children led a diverse collection of supporters, including a convicted bank robber, calling for Trump’s reelection on a night that featured a distinctly more positive tone than the night before.
The first-term president is laboring to improve his standing in a 2020 presidential race he is currently losing under the weight of the coronavirus and its related economic devastation. 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.
In one of the few emotional moments of the night, Trump showed a video of himself signing a pardon for Jon Ponder, a man from Nevada who has founded an organization that helps prisoners reintegrate into society.
“We live in a nation of second chances,” Ponder said, standing alongside Trump.
“Jon’s life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption,” Trump said before he signed the pardon.
Tuesday’s two-and-a-half-hour lineup also featured a Maine lobsterman, a Wisconsin farmer and a Native American leader. Social conservatives were represented by an anti-abortion activist and Billy Graham’s granddaughter. The convention also featured a Kentucky high school student whose interaction last year with Native Americans became a flashpoint in the nation’s culture wars.
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.
There was little mention of the pandemic throughout the night, although it remains a dominant issue for voters this fall.
The COVID-19 death toll surged past 178,000 on Tuesday, by far the highest in the world, and there is no sign of slowing. The nation’s unemployment rate still exceeds 10%, which is higher than it ever was during the Great Recession. And more than 100,000 businesses are feared closed forever.
At the same time, the White House seems to have abandoned efforts to negotiate another federal rescue package with Congress.
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.
Tuesday night, there were fierce attacks on Biden throughout, although the lineup generally maintained a more positive tone -- in part due to some last-minute changes.
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.
There were also barrier breakers featured 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.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was addressing the convention and nation during an official overseas trip in Israel.
“President Trump has put his America First vision into action,” Pompeo said. “It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it’s worked.”
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.
Mrs. Trump was the intended star of the night.
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 spoke from the renovated Rose Garden, despite questions about using the White House for a political convention. She addressed an in-person group of around 50 people, including her husband.