The people closest to U.S. President Donald Trump — his family — star in the second night of the Republican National Convention as the party works to reintroduce the president to the American electorate in the midst of the campaign and pandemic.
Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, is delivering Tuesday eveninfg’s keynote address before a small audience at the White House, while the president’s daughter Tiffany and son Eric were featured, too. As on the night before, Trump himself is expected to play “a significant role” in the prime-time programming, a campaign spokesperson said.
The focus on Trump’s family comes as the first-term president labours to improve his standing in a 2020 presidential race he is currently apparently 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.
On Tuesday night, Trump used the trappings of his office to elevate his message: pardoning a convicted felon, featuring his chief diplomat who was on assignment in Israel, and letting his wife use the White House Rose Garden for her keynote address.
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 re-election.
Convention organizers had promised an uplifting and hopeful message on the opening night of the scaled-back proceedings, but that was overshadowed by dark and ominous warnings from the president and his allies about the country’s future if he should lose in November.
Tuesday’s two-and-a-half-hour program featured an array of elected officials but, in line with what the Democrats offered a week earlier, the lineup included several everyday Americans.
There was 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.
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.
Trump’s party also featured a Kentucky high school student whose interaction last year with Native Americans became a flashpoint in the nation’s culture wars.
Nicholas Sandmann, in his speech, assailed the media and contended that no one has been a victim of unfair media coverage more than Trump.
Sandmann was among the students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., participating in an anti-abortion march in Washington in January 2019. Footage of his interaction with Nathan Phillips, who was participating in a separate demonstration supporting Native American rights, spread widely online.
Both Sandmann and Phillips later said they were trying to defuse tensions among three separate groups participating in both demonstrations. Video of the encounter showed Sandmann and Phillips standing very close to each other, with Sandmann staring, and at times smiling, at Phillips as Phillips sang and played a drum.
Sandmann later settled lawsuits against CNN and other media outlets.
Tiffany Trump carried forward the anti-media message, accusing both “big tech” and the media of suppressing truth and trying to control what Americans hear and see.
“I want to tell you the uncensored truth of what we believe in,” she said, addressing her father’s supporters. “We believe in freedom of thought and expression. Think what you want, seek out the truth. Learn from those with different opinions and then freely make your voice heard to the world.”
Looking to expand coalition
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 are barrier breakers like Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the first African American to hold statewide office in that state, and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, the first Latina to hold that office in her state.
The convention lineup also features, for the second night in a row, a Democrat: Robert Vlaisavljevich, the mayor of Eveleth, Minn., who has 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.
Pompeo speech raising questions
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will also 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.
Federal officials are prohibited from engaging in political activities on government time or at government expense. The State Department says Pompeo filmed the video during personal time on the trip, with the cost picked up by the convention.
Overall, there are more than a dozen speakers Tuesday evening, most of them appearing in prerecorded video or inside a largely empty Washington auditorium. But there is one intended star.
“Tonight is the first lady’s night,” said campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
Focus on Melania
Out of the public view for much of the year, Melania Trump will step 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.
She has not always been in lockstep with the president.
She responded with silence to multiple claims of infidelity against her husband, rushed to the border to visit migrant children separated by their parents as part of a Trump administration policy, and led a campaign against cyber bullying even as the president regularly uses social media to attack his critics.
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The first lady will 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.
The federal Hatch Act prohibits the use of a government building for campaigning, though the grounds of the White House are not considered a government building for the purposes of the law, the Office of Special Counsel wrote last week.
Still, Mrs. Trump’s appearance and Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night have raised concerns from ethics groups that the president was violating the spirit of the law, if not the letter.
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.
In a video aired during the convention broadcast, Trump said that Ponder’s story is a “beautiful testament to the power of redemption.” Ponder now leads a program in Las Vegas that helps former prisoners re-enter society called Hope for Prisoners.
Trump has trumpeted criminal justice reform as part of his outreach to Black and evangelical voters.