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4 Takeaways From Night 2 Of The Republican National Convention

First lady Melania Trump arrives to speak to the Republican National Convention from the White House on Tuesday. She empathized with those struggling with the coronavirus in her remarks.
Evan Vucci
First lady Melania Trump arrives to speak to the Republican National Convention from the White House on Tuesday. She empathized with those struggling with the coronavirus in her remarks.

Melania Trump empathized with those struggling with the coronavirus, while others sidestepped the pandemic's impact on the economy. The program disregarded old lines between official and political.

The second night of the Republican National Convention presented a more positive message about a second Trump term after opening night's bleak picture of rising crime, unrest and extremist policies the GOP said the Democratic ticket had in store for the country.

First lady Melania Trump, who rarely speaks at length, struck an empathetic tone for the country, which is still struggling with the coronavirus. Her speech stood out from the bulk of the program, which largely sidestepped the issue that is the central one voters are likely to consider in November's election.

The president, who has demonstrated he doesn't accept most political norms, blurred the lines between the official and the political — staging key segments of the 2020 convention program from the White House.

A series of speakers tapped into many of the culture war issues that the Trump campaign hammered on four years ago, in an effort to rally his loyal supporters to the polls.

The GOP, whose leadership is largely white and male, also featured younger and more diverse speakers.

Here are some takeaways from the Tuesday lineup:

1. Melania Trump acknowledged the nation's struggles with the coronavirus and racial unrest while others sidestepped those crises in favor of an economic message

First lady Melania Trump spoke from the White House Rose Garden, and her remarks were a departure from most other speakers, who sidestepped two of the chief challenges facing the country — the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest.

"I want to acknowledge the fact that since March, our lives have changed drastically. The invisible enemy, COVID-19, swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us," she said.

Although there was no explicit acknowledgment of the massive scale of the toll of the virus — more than 178,000 Americans have died so far — she showed more empathy than her husband has in recent months.

"My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one. ... I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone."

The first lady also touched on the racial unrest in the country.

"It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history," she said. But she added: "I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice, and never make assumptions based on the color of a person's skin."

She recalled how people underestimated her husband four years ago, and argued he fought then for people who felt alienated from politics and Washington and would do so again in a second term.

And the first lady said what you see is what you get with her husband, and another term means more of the same from the president, who uses social media to vent and opine.

"Total honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our president," she said. "Whether you like it or not, you always know what he is thinking."

Other speakers sought to credit President Trump for an improved economy. They said his trade deals, tax cuts and deregulation have brought new opportunities. But those speeches glossed over the reality that the economy has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Larry Kudlow, President Trump's top economic adviser, appeared to put the devastating impact of the virus — with more than 20 million still unemployed and many retail and hospitality industries on the verge of collapse — in the rearview mirror. Kudlow said, "We've hit a turning point. And now the recovery has begun."

Even though the Trump administration has acknowledged more federal help is needed for individuals and businesses, Kudlow said, "All signs point to a self-sustaining recovery."

He branded the tax cuts "a roaring success" and said that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would reverse all of the GOP's policies.

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds praised the administration's help to businesses and farms during disasters, like the recent derecho that damaged homes and crops in the state. "Because of President Trump and his leadership, our country is able to bounce back from setbacks and see opportunity grow and thrive."

2. In keeping with this norm-busting convention, the RNC program mixed official business with politics

President Trump hosts a naturalization ceremony for new citizens in a prerecorded video broadcast during the RNC on Tuesday night.
/ Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images
Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images
President Trump hosts a naturalization ceremony for new citizens in a prerecorded video broadcast during the RNC on Tuesday night.

With delegates unable to hold a traditional convention of sign-waving crowds in a jam-packed arena, the Trump campaign decided to use a mix of locations.

The one that played a starring role on Tuesday night was the White House.

Political events are traditionally held off campus, but questions about violations of the Hatch Act — which bars federal employees from working on campaigns — were set aside. The White House legal counsel has underscored that it doesn't apply to the president and vice president, but up until now members of both parties have taken pains to avoid conducting overtly political actions on federal property.

That changed with the 2020 GOP convention. Appearing in two separate taped segments that were announced as surprising additions to the program, President Trump oversaw a naturalization ceremony and announced a presidential pardon from the White House during the prime-time televised convention program.

Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, administered the oath to five new citizens in the East Room.

The president also told the story of Jon Ponder, who Trump said represented "a beautiful testament to the power of redemption." Ponder founded a program for the reentry of inmates into society after serving a 10-year prison sentence in Nevada for bank robbery. On camera, the president reunited Ponder with Richard Beasley, the FBI agent who arrested and later befriended him. With a reality show flair, Trump announced a full pardon for Ponder.

Both episodes blurred the lines between what would typically be considered official White House business and political theater. On Thursday night the president will accept his party's nomination for a second term on the South Lawn of the White House.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also broke with precedent, becoming the first top U.S. diplomat to participate in a political convention in modern history. He taped a speech in Jerusalem, where he was on a taxpayer-funded trip as part of his duties as secretary of state. In his speech Pompeo noted that the administration took an action that evangelicals who backed Trump in the 2016 election urged for years — moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Pompeo called the city the "rightful capital of the Jewish homeland."

3. Spotlight on culture wars showed the campaign's effort to energize Trump's base

With a deeply divided country and only a small margin of voters still undecided in the final 10 weeks of the campaign, Trump needs his loyal supporters to turn out in November in high numbers. Tuesday's program featured popular figures who railed about the media for disregarding them and ignoring issues they care about.

Eric Trump, the president's second-eldest son, said that in the 2016 election "the silent majority had no one fighting for them — in either party." He lit into thenews media, who he said "mocked these patriots — and 'the flyover states' in which they lived. They ignored the Trump flags."

Nicholas Sandmann, the MAGA hat-wearing Catholic high school teenager whose interaction with liberal activist Nathan Phillips at a January 2019 protest near the Lincoln Memorial triggered widespread coverage on social and mainstream media, received prime billing at the convention. The circumstances of his encounter with Phillips were inaccurately reported by several major media outlets. Sandmann talked about what he called the experience of being "canceled."

"Canceled is what's happening to people around this country who refuse to be silenced by the far left," Sandmann said. "Many are being fired, humiliated or even threatened, and often the media is a willing participant." Sandmann delivered his remarks in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and donned a MAGA hat at the end of his speech.

Tiffany Trump, the president's youngest daughter, said the press and technology platforms misrepresent the true state of the country.

"If you tune in to the media, you get one biased opinion or another," she said. "And if what you share does not fit into the narrative they seek to promote, then it is either ignored or deemed a 'lie,' regardless of the truth. This manipulation of what information we receive impedes our freedoms."

4. Republicans gave a big stage to diverse and younger voices as it struggles with the minority and youth vote

The Trump campaign only received 8% of the Black vote in the 2016 election, and the GOP's standing among minorities has remained low. Efforts to boost support in key battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin continue, but Democrats argued repeatedly in last week's convention that the president's policies have had the most negative impact on Black and Latino communities.

Convention organizers gave some of the prized convention slots to rising stars this week in an effort to counter the Democrats' narrative.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron took issue with some of Joe Biden's comments, which he said assumed the African American community is monolithic.

"Mr. Vice President, look at me. I am Black," Cameron said, addressing Biden directly. "We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own, and you can't tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin."

But Cameron's influence with Black voters may be undermined by criticism of his office's investigation of the Breonna Taylor case. The 26-year-old Black woman was fatally shot in her home in March by Louisville police, and activists have demanded accountability of local law enforcement.

Giving a national stage to Cameron followed Monday night's hopeful closing speech from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate's only Black Republican. (There are two Black Democrats in the Senate.) Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who talked about her immigrant parents from India, was another speaker the party elevated, with many including her on lists of future presidential candidates.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.