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After RNC speakers unleash searing attacks on Biden, Melania Trump takes softer approach

The lineup featured several members of the Trump family and a series of speeches that bemoaned the cultural battles and derided "cancel culture."
Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, first lady Melania Trump and Eric Trump will speak at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, first lady Melania Trump and Eric Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

WASHINGTON — After Republicans bemoaned cultural battles and portrayed Democrats as radical and out of touch, first lady Melania Trump offered a rare unifying message to conclude the second night of the Republican National Convention.

"My deepest sympathies go out to everyone who has lost a loved one, and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering," she said of the coronavirus pandemic. "Donald will not rest until he has done all he can."

The first lady, speaking from the White House Rose Garden, said she had been reflecting on the recent protests calling for racial justice and was horrified to learn about the realities of slavery on a trip to Ghana.

"I encourage people to focus on our future while still learning from our past," she said. "I don't want to use this precious time attacking the other side because, as we saw last week, that kind of talk only serves to divide the country further."

While imploring voters to re-elect her husband, the first lady's tone contrasted with that of other members of the Trump family, who criticized Democrat Joe Biden and warned that freedom of expression was under attack as "cancel culture" runs rampant.

"The Democrats want an America where your thoughts and opinions are censored when they do not align with their own," said Eric Trump, the president's son. "To the voiceless, shamed, censored and canceled — my father will fight for you."

Tiffany Trump, the president's daughter, warned that "our thoughts, opinions and even the choice of who we vote for are being manipulated and invisibly coerced by the media and tech giants."

Donald Trump entered his convention trailing Biden in the polls as he continues to face heavy criticism for his administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The convention repeatedly used his position in the White House to drive its message, blurring the line between political and official business, a move that is all but certain to stoke criticism from political opponents and government watchdogs. The pandemic scuttled Republicans' plans to hold their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Two lengthy videos were shown Tuesday night of Trump participating in official government business earlier in the day. In one, he issued a pardon to Jon Ponder, the CEO of Hope for Prisoners, the post-prison re-entry program he started after having been convicted three times. In the other video, the president was shown hosting a naturalization ceremony at the White House.

The Trump family also became the first in modern times to use the White House grounds for a political convention. Traditionally, presidents seeking re-election have sought to keep official government business separate from explicit campaign activity. Melania Trump smashed that custom Tuesday with her Rose Garden address.

Donald Trump joined a small crowd in the Rose Garden to watch his wife's speech. Only a handful of people appeared to be wearing masks. The couple left the event together down the White House colonnade.

The warm round of applause at the end of Melania Trump's speech was a noticeable feature that was absent during the high-profile speeches at the Democratic convention last week after Democrats opted for an almost entirely virtual event.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recorded his speech while on an official overseas trip, stopping in Jerusalem to use the city as his backdrop as he touted the Trump administration's decision to move the U.S. Embassy there after officially recognizing it as the capital of Israel.

There are no recent examples of a secretary of state's delivering a speech at a nominating convention, and many have skipped the event altogether.

Jon Ponder, President Donald Trump and former FBI agent Jim Beasley at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.RNC

Speakers also cast the media as complicit in cultural debates, echoing a criticism the president frequently launches on the campaign trail.

"I learned that what was happening to me had a name. It was called being canceled," said Nick Sandmann, who was involved in an incident with a Native American activist on the National Mall in Washington in January 2019. Video of part of their encounter went viral, and there was a dispute over what had actually occurred.

"Canceled is what's happening to people around this country who refuse to be silenced by the far left. Many are being fired, humiliated or even threatened. Often, the media is a willing participant," he said.

Sandmann has a pending lawsuit against NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC, and other media outlets based on reporting about the incident.

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds thanked Trump for his help after recent storms destroyed parts of the state and left thousands of people without power, and she accused the media of failing to give him credit.

"When the winds had finished raging and the cleanup had only begun, he showed up. You might not know, because the national media didn't report it. But the Trump administration was here. In full force," Reynolds said.

Melania Trump, too, called on the media to stop the "gossip."

Republicans, acknowledging that the economy was still suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, sought to portray the president as the right person to lead the country to recovery.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the virus brought "hardship and heartbreak," referring to the pandemic that continues to rage across America in the past tense. He argued that Biden's tax plan would damage the economy.

"In economic terms, folks, this is no time for a $4 trillion tax hike," Kudlow said.

Mary Ann Mendoza, an "angel mom," was abruptly canceled from the speaking lineup minutes before the event started after she retweeted a thread of posts about a Jewish plot to enslave the world.