Night 2 of Republican convention features Trump’s family, a pardon, and a bit of controversy

Melania Trump cast her husband as the best hope for America and Americans 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.

The president pardoned a reformed felon, used the White House grounds to elevate his wife’s keynote address and oversaw a naturalization ceremony for several immigrants in the midst of the prime-time program. The welcoming tone was at odds with some of his own policies, which are aimed at reducing both legal and illegal immigration.

“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.”

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.

Eric Trump, the son of the U.S. president, leaves the media area after interviews before a rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20, 2020. He and his sister, Tiffany, are among Tuesday evening’s speakers at the Republican National Convention. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

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 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.

The 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.

Anti-media moments

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.

Former high school student Nicholas Sandmann puts on a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat while speaking by video feed during the largely virtual convention. (2020 Republican National Convention/Handout via Reuters)

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,” the 26-year-old 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.” 

WATCH | Tiffany Trump says a vote for her father is “a vote to uphold our American ideals”:

Tiffany Trump says her father made her believe that America could truly be great again. 6:47

Pompeo speech raising questions

Casting aside his own advice to American diplomats and bulldozing a long tradition of secretary of state non-partisanship, Mike Pompeo plunged into the heart of the 2020 presidential race Tuesday with a speech supporting Donald Trump’s re-election.

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.

The State Department maintained Pompeo was speaking in his personal capacity without any U.S. government support or staffing — therefore, legally — but the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee identified him as “secretary of state” in previews of his convention remarks.

WATCH | Pompeo’s address:

In a speech that was called inappropriate by critics, the U.S. Secretary of State breached of decades of diplomatic precedent and possibly violated a federal law prohibiting executive branch employees from overt political activism while on duty. 3:49

Citizenship ceremony

Trump also hosted a naturalization ceremony at the White House in a video that aired during the convention.

Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf administered the oath to five people as Trump looked on.

Afterward, Trump welcomed the five into the “great American family” and congratulated them, saying, “Great going.”

WATCH | The citizenship ceremony:

In a break with norms, Donald Trump conducted a citizenship ceremony during Night 2 of the Republican National Convention. 9:23

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 were 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.

Presidential pardon

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.

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