WASHINGTON (AP) — The people closest to President Donald Trump — his family — are starring on the second night of the Republican National Convention as the GOP works to reintroduce the president to the American electorate in the midst of the campaign and pandemic.
First lady Melania Trump is delivering Tuesday evening’s keynote address before a small audience at the White House, while the president’s daughter Tiffany and son Eric will be featured, too. As on the night before, Trump himself is expected to play “a significant role” in the prime-time programming, a campaign spokesman said.
The focus on Trump’s family comes as the first-term president labors to improve his standing in a 2020 presidential race he is currently 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.
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.
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.
While the Republican president is tasked with expanding his base of support, early estimates suggest that fewer voters are watching his nominating convention than the Democrats’ affair last week.
The featured final hour of Trump’s opening night was seen by 15.8 million people across the top six television networks, according to the Nielsen company. That’s down from the 18.7 million who watched Biden’s first night.
Tuesday’s program is designed around the theme of “Land of Opportunity.”
Beyond the president’s family, the speakers include the mother of a police officer killed by an immigrant in the country illegally, a former Planned Parenthood official who became an anti-abortion activist, and a Kentucky high school student whose confrontation last year with Native Americans became a flashpoint in the nation’s culture wars.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the nation during an official overseas trip in Israel.
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 GOP convention.
Overall, there are more than a dozen speakers planned for the evening’s prime-time program, most of them appearing in prerecorded video or inside a largely empty Washington auditorium. But there is one intended star.
“Tonight is the first lady’s night,” said campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
Out of the public view for much of the year, Mrs. Trump will step 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.
Mrs. Trump has not always been in lockstep with the president.
She responded with silence to multiple claims of infidelity against her husband, she rushed to the border to visit migrant children separated by their parents as part of a Trump administration policy, and she led a campaign against cyber bullying even as the president regularly uses social media to attack his critics.
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 gave up studying architecture to pursue a career as a fashion model, arrived in New York in 1996 and met Donald Trump two years later.
She became his 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 is speaking from the renovated Rose Garden, despite questions about using the White House for a political convention.
The federal Hatch Act prohibits the use of a government building for campaigning, though the grounds of the White House are not considered a government building for the purposes of the law, the Office of Special Counsel wrote last week.
Still, Mrs. Trump’s appearance and Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night, have raised concerns from ethics groups that Trump is violating the spirit of the law, if not the letter.
Tuesday night’s program will include pointed attacks against Biden, whom convention speakers the night before assailed as a puppet of his party’s far-left wing who would destroy the American dream.
A number of GOP speakers repeatedly misrepresented Biden’s agenda, falsely accusing him of proposing to defund police, ban oil fracking, take over health care, open borders and raise taxes on most Americans. They tried to assign positions of the Democratic left to a middle-of-the-road candidate who explicitly rejected many of the party’s most liberal positions through the primaries.
Trump’s political future may depend on his ability to convince voters that America is on the right track, even as the coronavirus death toll exceeds 177,000 and pandemic-related job losses also reach into the millions.
A sense of pessimism has settled over the electorate. Just 23% of Americans think the country is heading in the right direction, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Trump and his supporters touted his response to the pandemic while standing alongside front-line workers in the White House, although he glossed over the mounting death toll, the most in the world, and his administration’s struggle to control the disease.
Convention organizers also repeatedly sought to cast Trump as an empathetic figure, borrowing a page from the Democrats’ convention playbook a week ago that effectively highlighted Biden’s personal connection to voters.
Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are keeping a relatively low profile this week. In a tweet Monday night, Biden offered a simple message to his supporters: “Just stay focused, folks. Let’s get to work.”
Peoples reported from New York. Price reported from Las Vegas. AP writers Kevin Freking and Zeke Miller in Washington and Dave Bauder in New York contributed.