By KENDALL KARSON and QUINN SCANLAN, ABC News
(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — The second night of the Republican National Convention closed out on a more hopeful note than the first night.
Tuesday was first lady Melania Trump’s moment to not only offer a more personal and soft portrayal of the commander-in-chief, but also to broaden President Donald Trump’s appeal among women.
Her address was also an opportunity for redemption.
“Donald and I are also inspired by the millions of Americans who wake up each day with a simple yet courageous goal of providing for their families and keeping them safe,” she said. “You are the backbone of the country. You are the people who continue to make the United States of America what it is.”
On Tuesday, between highly-choreographed segments and flouting of long-standing norms — which culminated in Mrs. Trump’s speech from the White House Tuesday — the president was always close by.
Trump emerged sporadically during the production: issuing a pardon, holding a naturalization ceremony at the White House and once more when his wife took the stage to make the case for his re-election. His “surprise” appearances served as reminders of how much this year’s gathering revolves around him — it’s his show — just four years after disruptions from the convention floor, and public shows of discord undercut his first celebration.
Here are the key takeaways from the second night of the RNC:
Melania Trump’s moment in the spotlight
Four years after her controversial 2016 speech — which was overshadowed by accusations that portions were plagiarized from former first lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech — and the grim tenor that dominated the first night of this year’s convention, Mrs. Trump delivered a far more positive address.
“As first lady, I have been fortunate to see the American dream come true over and over again,” she said from the newly-renovated Rose Garden. “After many of the experiences I’ve had, I don’t know if I can fully explain how many people I take home with me in my heart each day.”
Mrs. Trump was the headliner of the night, a departure from the low-profile the first lady typically keeps, to focus on why her husband, the Republican nominee, should be re-elected.
“No matter the amount of negative or false media headlines or attacks from the other side, Donald Trump has not and will not lose focus,” she said. “He loves this country and knows how to get things done.”
“I don’t want to use this precious time attacking the other side. We saw last week that kind of talk only serves to divide the country further,” Mrs. Trump said. “I’m here because we need my husband to be president and commander in chief for four more years. He is what is best for our country.”
She also invoked the recent protests over racial inequality to urge the country to learn from its past — a different approach than her husband, who has a penchant for stoking racial divisions.
“Like all of you, I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country. It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history. I encourage you to focus on the future while still learning from the past,” she said.
The first lady also made this most direct appeal to women in the country, asking them to choose Trump for four more years.
“To mothers and parents everywhere, you are warriors. In my husband, you have a president who will not stop fighting for you and your families,” she said. “If you tell him it cannot be done, he just works harder.”
A mix of ‘personal capacity’ and official business
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the Republican gathering from beyond water’s edge — a move that no other sitting secretary of state has done in modern history and one that drew scrutiny before the pre-taped speech was even aired.
“I’m speaking to you from beautiful Jerusalem, looking out over the Old City,” he said, thumbing his nose at criticism about his unprecedented speech from foreign soil, at the convention. “I have a big job… as Susan’s husband and Nick’s Dad! They are more safe, and their freedoms more secure, because President Trump has put his ‘America First’ vision into action. It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it has worked.”
While on an official overseas trip, Pompeo’s participation in perhaps the most political event of the campaign season sparked concerns about him blurring the lines between his official post and his personal affairs.
For the top U.S. diplomat, it has long been considered inappropriate to take part in overtly partisan events. The last six secretaries of state didn’t even attend their party’s convention to avoid appearing political.
An RNC official told ABC News before Tuesday night’s festivities kicked off that “Pompeo’s personal lawyers, State, RNC and White House lawyers all worked on this appearance to make sure that it is lawful and appropriate, including screening and approving remarks.”
The official added that “no taxpayer resources were used to film or produce the speech,” and that “all costs associated are being paid by the RNC.”
But there are still many questions about his decision — and he is likely to face even more when he returns home.
House Democrats, led by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opened an investigation into Pompeo’s involvement with the convention from Israel — and are seeking more information about any internal legal vetting of the move, whether any staff were involved in the setup for his speech, and if his participation impacted planning for his trip to the region.
Trump, leading the charge for the little guy
Despite his wealth, Ivy League education and pre-White House celebrity status, Trump was cast by speakers Tuesday night as someone who not only understands the hardships facing everyday Americans, but who is the ultimate fighter on behalf of them.
Tiffany Trump, the president’s youngest daughter, declared her father is the only one who’s taken on the “establishment” and “does not run away from challenges.”
Eric Trump, the president’s second eldest son and the executive vice president of the Trump Organization, echoed his sister’s comments, saying, “My father ran, not because he needed the job, but because he knew hardworking people across this great country were being left behind.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said he was struck by how much the president seemed like a “normal guy” when he first met him — despite him having his own plane and helicopter.
He spoke of witnessing the president’s empathy firsthand, at Dover Air Force Base, when two soldiers’ bodies were flown back to the U.S. to be reunited with their families.
“I’ll never forget that evening. I can tell you the president not only felt the pain of these families, but the president is committed to ending this war,” the senator said.
Speaking about the devastation that Iowans recently faced after a derecho hit, destroying millions of acres of crops and causing thousands to lose power, Gov. Kim Reynolds said that not only were Iowans there for each other, but they also had the help and support of the president.
“Iowans did what you expect Iowans to do: They helped each other. But someone else also had our back: our president,” she said. “When the winds had finished raging and the cleanup had only begun, he showed up.”
Jason Joyce, an eighth-generation lobster fisherman in Maine, said he didn’t support Trump in 2016, but ever since the president made a trade deal to end tariffs on Maine’s lobsters, Joyce has been convinced that Trump follows at least one of his campaign’s phrases: “promises made, promises kept.”
“As long as Trump is president, fishing families like mine will have a voice,” Joyce said. “When he sees something isn’t right, he is fearless in fixing it. He listens to working people.”
The overtures for the Black vote
Republicans are not playing coy as they attempt to chip away at the core constituency of Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s base: Black voters.
Early in the night, the pardon of Jon Ponder sought to highlight the president’s criminal justice record, which includes signing the First Step Act into law, in an effort to appeal to African Americans at a moment when the country is reflecting on its tenuous history with racial equality.
After a night featuring a number of Black speakers, Daniel Cameron, the Kentucky Attorney General (and the first African American to hold that position), joined the ranks on Tuesday to push back against the notion that Black voters are entrenched with the Democratic Party.
“I think often about my ancestors who struggled for freedom. And as I think of those giants and their broad shoulders, I also think about Joe Biden, who says: ‘If you aren’t voting for me, you ain’t black,"” Cameron said. “Who says there is ‘no diversity’ of thought in the Black community…You can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin.”
He also sought to draw a contrast between Trump’s record and Biden’s statements on race, which the former vice president has since apologized for. But Trump’s own rhetoric often overshadows his achievements on criminal justice, previously painting protesters as “thugs” and as “an angry mob” seeking to “erase our history.”
Cameron’s presence at the convention renewed criticism over his central role in overseeing the investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black EMT, who died when Louisville police officers shot her inside her home. Cameron has faced increasing pressure to bring charges against the officers amid nationwide demonstrations spurred in part by Taylor’s death.
But the rising GOP star — who won statewide office in 2019, the same year Democrats outperformed Republicans in key suburbs — served to counter concerns over suburban voters revolting against the Republican Party, and to continue the Trump campaign’s efforts to woo Black voters, a bedrock of the Democratic Party.
Cameron pitched Trump as the only presidential contender who can move the country forward, particularly for Black communities.
“Joe Biden is a backwards thinker in a world craving forward-looking leadership. There’s no wisdom in his record or plan, just a trail of discredited ideas and offensive statements,” he said. “I ask you to judge the record on criminal justice reform: Joe Biden couldn’t do it, but President Trump did.”
Everyday Americans front and center to showcase new beginnings
The theme for the second night of the Republicans’ convention was “America: Land of Opportunity,” and it was the everyday Americans who embodied this most.
Early during the night’s programming, the president made an appearance via a pre-recorded video in which he extended his absolute power, the pardon, to give Ponder’s life a fresh start.
Ponder, a convicted felon who had been arrested for a series of bank robberies, spoke about how a judge spared him of a 23-year sentence in a maximum security federal prison, opting to give him a lesser sentence. Ever since, Ponder said he’s worked to turn his life around.
Ponder started a nonprofit organization called HOPE for Prisoners, which seeks to help men and women like him trying to reenter life after incarceration. But ever after prison, Ponder was still seen as a convicted felon — that is until the president took action and stripped him of that label.
“As Jon says, HOPE for Prisoners is a movement that began as a dream in a tiny prison cell, and is now making a difference in the lives of thousands,” Trump said. “Jon, we honor your devotion to showing returning citizens that they are not forgotten.”
Chris Peterson, a Midwestern dairy farmer, said that Trump “became president in the middle of the Great Depression for dairy farmers in Wisconsin.”
Peterson, focusing on the pre-COVID economy under Trump, said the president brought an “economic boom,” and with it, new hope for dairy farmers like her and her family.
“As a businessman, President Trump understands that farming is a complicated, capital intensive and risky business. More than any president in my lifetime, he has acknowledged the importance of farmers and agriculture,” she said.
In line with his pledge to stop undocumented immigrants from entering the country illegally, Trump participated in a naturalization ceremony at the White House for five now-U.S. citizens who had emigrated from Bolivia, Lebanon, India, Sudan and Ghana.
“You followed the rules, you obeyed the laws. You learned your history, embraced our values and proved yourselves to be men and women of the highest integrity,” Trump said during a pre-recorded video of the ceremony. “You have earned the most prized, treasured, cherished and priceless possession anywhere in the world: It’s called American citizenship.”
The night also highlighted the president’s actions towards solving the opioid crisis.
Ryan Holets, a police officer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, spoke about responding to a call at the beginning of his shift, and meeting a very pregnant homeless woman named Crystal who was about to inject herself with heroin, a moment that not only changed his life, but changed hers and her future daughter’s. Crystal broke down, told Holets she “loved her unborn baby,” and wanted a family to adopt her, and Holets said his family would.
“Today, our beautiful daughter, Hope, is a thriving 2-year-old. Crystal is fast approaching three years of recovery,” Holets said, praising the president for the actions he’s taken to address America’s opioid epidemic and presenting him as a beacon of opportunity for the country.
“We are fortunate, America, to have a president who cares deeply for the downtrodden and who works tirelessly to find solutions,” he said. “President Trump is the leader we have needed the last four years, and he is the leader we need for the next four.”
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