Melania Trump makes plea for racial harmony

  


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.

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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.

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 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.

“Whether you like it or not, you always know what he’s thinking. And that is because he’s an authentic person who loves this country and its people and wants to continue to make it better,” Mrs. Trump said. “He wants nothing more than for this country to prosper and he doesn’t waste time playing politics.”

 The second day of the Republican National Convention started with a decidedly different, more positive tone, with an emphasis on Americans who say have they benefited from President Donald Trump’s policies.

Here are some takeaways from the second night.

LEVERAGING THE WHITE HOUSE

Three ruffles and flourishes. The squeak of a Sharpie. The theatrically lit Rose Garden.

Trump sought to leverage the full weight of the presidency behind his reelection effort, as he blended official acts and campaigning.

In the convention’s first half-hour, the convention aired a video featuring Trump signing a pardon for Jon Ponder, an ex-convict who now runs an acclaimed prisoner reentry program. Later, military aides opened the doors to the White House Cross Hall as “Hail to the Chief” played before Trump presided over a naturalization ceremony for new Americans. Both events were taped in recent days as Trump and his reelection campaign looked to find ways to airbrush the harsher edges of his actual policies.

They will add to criticism that Trump is exploiting the White House for political purposes in ways none of his predecessors have. While Trump is not covered by the federal Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of most federal workers, previous presidents have tended to draw clear distinctions between campaigning and governing.

MELANIA TRUMP TALKS VIRUS, RACIAL STRIFE

The use of the White House as backdrop continued when First Lady Melania Trump capped off the evening with a speech from the newly renovated Rose Garden.

After the deadly toll of the coronavirus pandemic was largely ignored on the second night of the convention, Mrs. Trump began her speech by talking about its devastating impact.

“I want to acknowledge the fact that since March our lives have changed drastically,” she said. “The invisible enemy, COVID-19, swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us. My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one.”

Several times she diverged from the party line, as well as from economic adviser Larry Kudlow’s repeated use, in earlier in the evening, of the past tense to talk about a virus that is still killing an average of about 1,000 Americans a day.

While extolling her husband’s character and record, she also took on a number of other challenging, sorrowful concerns, including natural disasters, opioid addiction, and racial injustice.

And the very close-guarded first lady spoke about her own journey, which includes her family benefiting from immigration policies her husband’s administration opposes. She said she became an American citizen “after 10 years of paperwork and patience” and “with hard work and determination.”

It was a speech that stood out for its sense of the genuine on a night with the contrivances were many.

REPUBLICANS STAKEOUT POLICY GROUND

For technical reasons, Republicans did not vote on a new platform this year, but on Tuesday they tried to make clear what they stand for.

The night’s program offered snapshots both of how the GOP has changed since Trump’s insurgent candidacy took over the party four years ago and what has remained the same.

There were longtime standards — opposition to abortion and hardline policies on illegal immigration — but also Trump’s rewiring of the GOP’s one-time free-market orthodoxy on trade and its interventionist foreign policy.

Like Democrats before them, Republicans put forth “real people” to make Trump’s point.

John Peterson, who owns a metal fabrication company in Wisconsin, highlighted Trump’s efforts to reinvigorate domestic steel manufacturers with tariffs on China. Jason Joyce, a Maine lobster fisherman, credited Trump with helping to save his industry from cheap exports from China.

Republicans also showcased Trump’s signing of criminal justice reform legislation — an issue on which the GOP had resisted moving in prior administrations. The convention then showed the video of Ponder’s pardon.

Trump’s reshaping of GOP’s foreign policy was also on display with the prominent speaking slot for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — an outspoken critic of American overseas intervention. Paul highlighted Trump’s refusal to “leave our blood and treasure in Middle East quagmires” and his push to end “endless wars.”

Those efforts by Trump — particularly his withdrawal last year of nearly all American troops from Syria — led to some of the sharpest criticism from members of his own party in Congress. Now, they are airing in prime time.

EMPATHY DEFICIT?

The Republicans have an empathy problem.

Trump has long struggled with personal connections in times of tragedy, whether due to natural disasters or mass shootings, a shortcoming highlighted by the suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His harsh rhetoric and relentlessly optimistic outlook on the crisis — which often flies in the face of the facts — has hurt him, according to campaign surveys, which show that voters believe that Democratic Joe Biden relates far better to their hardships. The Republicans this week have tried to highlight Trump’s softer side after Democrats effectively showcased the compassion of Biden.

But the attempt to humanize Trump was already in the works, part of a strategy to win back senior and suburban voters who have abandoned him in no small part due to his aggressive rhetoric and lack of obvious empathy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, none of the trios of adult Trump children who spoke over the for first two days offered a humanizing anecdote about their father, sticking to political talking points and attacks on Biden.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE

Trump’s tolerance for conspiracists and fringe voices who back his political ambitions were on stark display Tuesday.

His campaign was forced to pull a recorded speech featuring a speaker who shared anti-Semitic and other extreme messages on Twitter just hours before it was to air at the convention.

“We have removed the scheduled video from the convention lineup and it will no longer run this week,” said campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh.

Mary Ann Mendoza had been scheduled to deliver remarks Tuesday night to highlight the president’s fight against illegal immigration. Mendoza’s son was killed in 2014 in a head-on collision by a man who was under the influence and living in the U.S. illegally.

Mendoza’s speech was pulled after she spread tweets related to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, which centers on an alleged anonymous, high-ranking government official known as “Q” who shares information about an anti-Trump “deep state” often tied to satanism and child sex trafficking.

Earlier Tuesday, a Republican congressional nominee from Georgia who supports the QAnon theory revealed she had been invited to the convention.

Marjorie Taylor Greene posted a photo of the invitation to her Twitter account Tuesday. She wrote that she was “honored and thrilled to be invited to attend President Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday evening at the White House.”

Trump praised Greene as a “future Republican Star” after she won her primary earlier this month. He has courted the support of QAnon believers, saying, “I heard that these are people that love our country.”

The RNC did air a speech by anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson. She has previously advocated for something called “household voting,” saying women should defer to their husbands on making decisions related to politics.


A rating DISAPPOINTMENT

Ratings for the opening night of the convention trailed not just Trump’s convention four years ago, but the Democrats’ convention last week. Trump had looked to this week’s event as a “four-night infomercial” for his reelection, but it appears viewers weren’t as keen on the show as he hoped.

Overall, 17 million people watched the final hour of convention coverage on all networks Monday, down from 19.7 million who saw Biden’s first-night last week. Fox’s audience was up 238%, but Democratic convention viewership beat Republicans on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC.

While MSNBC and CNN combined had just under 10 million viewers for Biden’s first night, they had 3.6 million for Trump, Nielsen said.

Trump on Tuesday complimented CNN for carrying nearly the entirety of the Monday night convention, implicitly chiding his favored Fox News for repeatedly breaking away from the scripted programming to conduct live interviews.

 Eric Trump echoed falsehoods of his father, Melania Trump credited her husband with a dubious religious first, and the president’s economic adviser wholly distorted the conditions Donald Trump inherited as Republicans stepped up to praise him at their national convention Tuesday.

The crucial context was missing at various parts of the evening, as when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed Trump’s jousting with China and North Korea and others weighed in on Trump’s judgment in world affairs.

A look at rhetoric from the second night of the virtual Republican National Convention:

RELIGION

MELANIA TRUMP: “He’s the first president to address a special session of the United Nations General Assembly to call upon countries across the world to end religious persecution and honor the right of every person to worship as they choose.”

CISSIE GRAHAM LYNCH, evangelist and granddaughter of Billy Graham: “On the world stage, President Trump became the first president to talk about the importance of religious freedom at the United Nations, giving hope to people of faith around the world.”

THE FACTS: No, Trump is certainly not the first U.S. president to address the United Nations General Assembly about religious freedom. President Barack Obama did so, discussing religious tolerance and liberty during a speech to the assembly Sept. 25, 2012. Several predecessors did so as well.

“We not only respect the freedom of religion, but we also have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe,” Obama said in his remarks, which focused on an anti-Muslim film that had touched off violent protests in the Middle East. “Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.”

Last year Trump was the host for a U.N. meeting devoted to religious freedom and boasted at the time that he was the first to convene such a meeting at the U.N. But contrary to the impression created by the first lady and the evangelist, he was not at all the first American president to make a case for religious liberty to the General Assembly.

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LARRY KUDLOW, Trump economic adviser: Trump was ”inheriting a stagnant economy on the front end of the recession,” and under the president, “the economy was rebuilt in three years.”

THE FACTS: This is false. The economy was healthy when Trump arrived at the White House.

Even if the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was agonizingly slow, Trump took office with unemployment at a low 4.7%, steady job growth, and a falling federal budget deficit. The longest expansion in U.S. history began in the middle of 2009 and continued until the start of the year, spanning both the Barack Obama and Trump presidencies.

The U.S. economy did benefit from Trump’s 2017 tax cuts with a jump in growth in 2018, but the budget deficit began to climb as a result of the tax breaks that favored companies and the wealthy in hopes of permanently expanding the economy.

Annual growth during Obama’s second term averaged about 2.3%. Trump notched a slightly better 2.5% during his first three years, but the country swung into recession this year because of the coronavirus and will probably leave Trump with an inferior track record to his predecessor over four years.

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SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO

CHINA

POMPEO: “The president has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world.”

THE FACTS: That’s misleading. In his videotaped remarks from Israel, Pompeo failed to mention Trump’s initial personal affinity and repeated praise for Chinese leader Xi Jinping as he publicly extolled the country’s handling of the coronavirus early on.

In a CNBC interview on Jan. 22, for instance, Trump was asked if he trusted information from China about the coronavirus. “I do,” Trump said. “I have a great relationship with President Xi.”

Two days later, he was even more effusive. “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” he tweeted. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. ...I want to thank President Xi!”

Trump kept up the compliments when asked several times in February about whether data from China, where the virus originated, can be trusted. He called Xi “extremely capable” and said he’s “doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”

His praise only faded when the pandemic hit hard in the U.S. and his administration’s response stumbled. He then became quick to blame China for what he started calling the “China virus.”

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TRADE

POMPEO: “He has ended ridiculously unfair trade deals with China that punched a hole in our economy.”

THE FACTS: That, too, is misleading. Whatever the weaknesses of the trade deals Trump inherited, it’s become clear that what he negotiated instead is not a gamechanger.

The trade war that Trump escalated with China caused several self-inflicted wounds. Farmers and factories were part of the collateral damage from the volley of tariffs as the two largest countries in the world jockeyed for an edge.

It’s still too soon to judge the limited agreement reached by Trump as a triumph or a flop.

China committed to buy an additional $200 billion in American goods above 2017 levels by the end of 2021 in what was initially a truce against further aggression. Yet the deal lacked meaningful progress on the support that China gives its state-owned companies, a key problem for the United States. The global pandemic also means that trade volumes have fallen, making it harder for China to meet its target for American-made goods. “It appears that President Trump accepted an IOU as a declaration of victory,” analysts at the Brookings Institution concluded.

SEN. RAND PAUL: “Joe Biden voted for the Iraq war, which President Trump has long called the worst geopolitical mistake of our generation.”

THE FACTS: Trump had no more foresight on this matter than Biden. Neither was against it when it started.

When asked during a Sept. 11, 2002, radio interview if he would support an Iraq invasion, Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The next month, Biden as a senator voted to authorize George W. Bush to use force in Iraq.

The next March, just days after the U.S. launched its invasion, Trump said it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”

It wasn’t until September 2003 that Trump first publicly raised doubts about the invasion, saying “a lot of people (are) questioning the whole concept of going in in the first place.” In November 2005, Biden called his Senate vote to authorize force a mistake.

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MILITARY

ERIC TRUMP: “My father rebuilt the mighty American military — added new jets, aircraft carriers.”

THE FACTS: That’s an exaggeration.

It’s true that his administration has accelerated a sharp buildup in defense spending, including a respite from what the U.S. military considered to be crippling spending limits under budget sequestration.

But a number of new Pentagon weapons programs, such as the F-35 fighter jet, were started years before the Trump administration. And it will take years for freshly ordered tanks, planes and other weapons to be built, delivered and put to use.

The Air Force’s Minuteman 3 missiles, a key part of the U.S. nuclear force, for instance, have been operating since the early 1970s and the modernization was begun under the Obama administration. They are due to be replaced with a new version, but not until later this decade.

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ERIC TRUMP, on his father: “He increased wages for our incredible men and women in uniform.”

THE FACTS: Yes, but military pay has been raised every year for decades, and the raises under Trump have been smaller compared with past years.

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POLICE

ERIC TRUMP: “Biden has pledged to defund the police.”

THE FACTS: False. Biden has made no such pledge.

He’s rejected calls from some on the left to defund the police, proposing more money for departments to improve their practices. His agenda includes federal money for training to “avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure police departments reflect the populations they serve. He’s proposed $300 million in federal community policing grants.

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RACIAL INEQUALITY

KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL CAMERON: “On the economy: Joe Biden couldn’t do it, but President Trump did build an economy that worked for everyone, especially minorities.”

THE FACTS: Not accurate.

Republicans can talk successfully about the decline in unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic workers. But that’s just one gauge — and plenty of troubles and inequalities abound for minorities. Minority groups still lagged behind white people with regard to incomes, wealth, and homeownership before the pandemic. But when the disease struck, it became clear that the economy did not work well for everybody as the job losses and infections disproportionately hit minorities.

Black unemployment now stands at 14.6%. Hispanic unemployment is 12.9%. The white unemployment rate is 9.2%. For every dollar of total wealth held by white households, Blacks have just 5 cents, according to the Federal Reserve. It’s 4 cents for Hispanics.

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TAXES

ERIC TRUMP: The president slashed taxes and “wages went through the roof.”

THE FACTS: Not quite. Wage growth did improve, but there is clearly still a roof on workers’ incomes.

The 2017 tax cuts appear unlikely to deliver on their promised pay increases. White House economists argued that incomes would surge by at least $4,000 because of the lower corporate tax rate. That has yet to occur and seems unlikely given the current recession.

But average hourly wages did improve to a 3.5% annual gain by February 2019, much better than the 2.7% annual gain in December 2016 before Trump became president. The problem was that wage growth then began to slip through the end of last year despite the steady hiring. Wage gains only accelerated again with the pandemic and layoffs of millions of poor workers that artificially raised average wages.

What workers have yet to see is a meaningful change in the distribution of income. More than half of total household income goes to the top 20% of earners, according to the Census Bureau. Their share has increased slightly under Trump with data that is current through 2018. The bottom 20% of earners get just 3.1% of total income, just as they did before Trump’s presidency.

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NORTH KOREA

POMPEO: “The president lowered the temperature and, against all odds, got North Korean leadership to the table. No nuclear tests, no long-range missile tests and Americans held captive in North Korea came home to their families, as did the precious remains of scores of our heroes who fought in Korea.”

THE FACTS: This statement leaves out the fact that Trump helped raise the temperature before he helped lower it.

Trump has often told the story that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, warned him North Korea was the gravest immediate threat to the country. Indeed in the early months of Trump’s presidency, North Korea was heightening tensions with nuclear and long-range missile tests. Trump responded by dialing up belligerent rhetoric, threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” and nicknaming North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “little rocket man.”

Tensions grew to such extremes that at points some experts were actually concerned about tit-for-tat nuclear strikes if not all-out war.

The temperature began to cool when Pompeo became secretary of state, the North released three American prisoners, agreed to repatriate the remains of U.S. servicemen killed during the Korean war and the first of Trump’s three meetings with Kim was held in Singapore.

But while the North has not resumed nuclear or long-range missile tests, it has stepped up activity at its atomic facilities. Negotiations with the U.S. on its weapons programs have been stalled since October.

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ISLAMIC STATE

POMPEO: “Today, because of the president’s determination and leadership, the ISIS caliphate is wiped out.”

THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading as the Islamic State group still poses a threat.

IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, then lost the last of its land holdings in Syria in March 2019, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate. Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The recent resurgence of attacks is a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments otherwise focused on the pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos. The virus is compounding longtime concerns among security and U.N. experts that the group will stage a comeback.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the U.S. fight against the group was continuing.

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FARMING

CRIS PETERSON, from a Wisconsin dairy family: “Our entire economy and dairy farming are once again roaring back. One person deserves the credit and our vote, President Donald J. Trump.”

THE FACTS: Not everyone in the dairy industry views it as booming, especially as larger operations are putting smaller family farms out of business.

The Agriculture Department reported this summer that “dairy herds fell by more than half between 2002 and 2019, with an accelerating rate of decline in 2018 and 2019, even as milk production continued to grow.”

Part of the problem is that smaller farms face higher production costs. Farms with more than 2,000 cattle are more likely for their sales to exceed their total costs, while smaller farms are more likely to operate at a loss by this metric, according to government figures.