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Controversy Clouds Melania Trump's Brightening of Dark GOP Convention

Mrs. Trump’s gracefully delivered speech was a rare light note in an otherwise intense night filled with dark depictions of America.
Image: Republican National Convention: Day One
Melania Trump delivers a speech on the first day of the convention. In a rare speech she emphasized his gentler, kind-hearted side.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

CLEVELAND — Melania Trump sought to show husband Donald Trump’s softer side on the first night of the Republican Convention, a jarring contrast with a raft of other speakers who described a violent America besieged by crime, illegal immigration, and corruption.

Melania Trump's speech was widely praised at first, but was marred by plagiarism charges after observers pointed out a section on family values strongly resembled a similar passage from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech — almost word for word at points.

Related: Did Melania Trump Plagiarize Michelle Obama in Speech?

Donald Trump himself made a surprise appearance to introduce "the next First Lady of the United States," his third wife and an accomplished former model and jewelry designer who emigrated from Slovenia.

Mrs. Trump avoided personal stories about their courtship, relationship, and family life, but described Trump as a loyal husband, father, and boss who was more empathetic than he appeared.

"He’s tough when he has to be, but he’s also kind and fair and caring," she said. "This kindness is not always noted but it is there for all to see."

Related: Melania Trump Skewered for 'Plagiarized' Speech

She said his vision for America, which is frequently accused of exploiting white resentment, included prosperity for "Hispanics and African Americans and Asians and the poor and the middle class."

In a heartwarming moment, she led the crowd in cheering former Senator Bob Dole, the only former Republican presidential nominee attending the convention this week.

Mrs. Trump’s gracefully delivered speech was a rare light note in an otherwise intense night filled with dark depictions of America and calls for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to be prosecuted and jailed.

The slogan of the night was "Make America Safe Again" and convention speakers offered a long list of dark scenarios that they warned only Trump could prevent.

Full Coverage: The GOP Convention Is Underway in Cleveland

The tone was influenced by a trying month that featured two high-profile police shootings and two deadly attacks on police that left five officers dead in Dallas and three officers dead in Baton Rouge. A man driving a truck killed 84 people in Nice last week, just over a month after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay club in Orlando.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani delivered the best-received speech of the night, an impassioned address warning of threats from Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants, and crime.

"There’s no next election: This is it," Giuliani said. "There’s no time left for us to revive our great country."

Much of the first hour was devoted to the September 11, 2012 attack on Benghazi. A number of speakers blamed then-Secretary of State Clinton for failing to prevent the attack on the compound and for not acting decisively to stop it once it began.

"I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son, that's personally," Pat Smith, whose son Sean Smith was killed that night, told the audience in an emotional speech. Smith added that Clinton "deserves to be in stripes."

Multiple investigations into the attack, including a recently released report by the House Select Committee on Benghazi, found security failures but did not hold Clinton responsible for wrongdoing.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michel Flynn, who Trump considered as a running mate, addressed a mostly deserted arena as the audience emptied out of the stands once Mrs. Trump finished her remarks and never returned.

"War is not about bathrooms or political correctness, Flynn said. "War is about winning."

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, a rising star in the party and Iraq veteran, closed the event along with Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, who served as a Navy SEAL in Iraq, and a group of other former military servicemen and servicewomen.

"Terrorists from ISIS are in every one of our fifty states," Ernst said. "They will use whatever weapons they have: guns, trucks, knives, poisons, and bombs to kill innocent people."

Reinforcing the themes of the evening, Trump called into Fox News during Smith’s speech for an interview with Bill O’Reilly in which he said he might direct his Attorney General as president to investigate Black Lives Matter rallies.

"I've seen them marching down the street essentially calling death to the police and I think we're gonna have to look into that especially in light of what’s happening with these maniacs going and shooting our police," Trump said.

Monday’s lineup notably included a number of black and Latino speakers who reinforced Trump’s criticism of Black Lives Matter activists and undocumented immigrants.

One of the biggest cheers of the night came when Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke, who is African American, celebrated the "good news" that a Baltimore officer was acquitted this week on charges connected to the death of 25-year old Freddie Gray, who suffered fatal spinal damage while handcuffed in a police van.

"Someone with a nice tan needs to say this: All lives matter," Colorado Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, who is also African American, said.

Another section featured three speakers who lost family members to crimes perpetrated by migrants living in America without authorization, each identified with a label on the convention screen that read "VICTIM OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS."

There was also some low-wattage star power. Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson and actors Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr. addressed the crowd. All three mostly stuck to light, uncontroversial, and brief remarks – onstage at least. Speaking on CNN later, Baio stood by a tweet calling Clinton an obscene sexual epithet while Sabato told ABC that he believed President Obama was "absolutely" a secret Muslim.

While the speakers tried to focus on uniting Republicans against threats at home and abroad, the convention was marred by infighting between the Trump campaign and its critics on the right.

On the floor of Quicken Loans Arena, delegates from Colorado and Iowa walked out in a dispute over the rules after unsuccessfully demanding a roll call vote on rules that would unbind delegates and allow them to vote against Trump.

The Trump campaign also fought a daylong war of words with the popular governor of Ohio John Kasich, who is not attending the convention and is one of several former 2016 candidates who have not endorsed Trump.

"He’s embarrassing his state, frankly," top Trump adviser Paul Manafort said of Kasich on MSNBC’s Morning Joe early Monday. He went on to call Kasich "petulant" for not speaking at the convention at an event hosted by Bloomberg News.

Kasich, in turn, said in an interview on NBC Nightly News that Trump’s positions and rhetoric made it impossible for him to attend the GOP gathering.

"He'd have to change everything that he says," Kasich said. "We can't be attacking Muslims and Hispanics, and trying to shut down trade, and not caring about the debt. Those are all problems for me."