Washington, New York, and Las Vegas
First lady Melania Trump portrayed her husband as an authentic, uncompromising leader in a Rose Garden address 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 offered a polished portrait of Mr. Trump’s presidency Tuesday night that was often at odds with the crises, division, and unforgiving actions of his administration.
But it was part of a broader effort to show a more forgiving side of a combative president who will soon face the voters. Beyond the first lady’s remarks, Mr. Trump 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.”
Democrat Joe Biden’s camp was not impressed.
“Immigrants and Latinos are not props, and these empty gestures won’t make us forget Donald Trump’s failures,” said the Biden campaign’s Latino media director, Jennifer Molina.
Mrs. Trump and two of the president’s five children led a diverse collection of supporters, including a convicted bank robber, calling for Mr. Trump’s reelection on a night that featured a distinctly more positive tone than the night before.
Mr. Trump has ground to make up. Most polls report that Democratic rival Mr. Biden has a significant advantage in terms of raw support; the former vice president also leads on character issues such as trustworthiness and likability. That makes character assessments such as the one Mrs. Trump provided on Tuesday important if the president hopes to win back voters – particularly women – who have strayed amid the pandemic, economic collapse, and a reckoning on racism.
In a particularly emotional moment, Mr. 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,” Mr. Ponder said, standing alongside Mr. Trump.
“Jon’s life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption,” Mr. Trump said before he signed the pardon.
The lineup also had 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, Mr. 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.
Mrs. Trump noted that the lives of Americans changed “drastically” in March with the onset of the coronavirus. But other speakers made little mention of the pandemic even as it remains a dominant issue for voters.
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 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.
There were fierce attacks on Mr. Biden throughout the night, although the lineup generally maintained a 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.