“I don’t know if I can fully explain how many people I bring home to my heart. ”
But her Tuesday night appearance had a higher calling, essential to her husband’s success in November.
She was to reach out to American women, who voted for Trump in 2016 but threaten to abandon her now because of race and the pandemic.
“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, which is part of our history, ”she said, tackling head-on the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 178,000 Americans.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to all of you who have lost a loved one and my prayers go out to those who are sick or in pain,” said the first lady. “I know a lot of people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know that you are not alone. ”
The president’s campaign team quietly acknowledges and votes support that he has alienated some suburban women, discouraged by his handling of the pandemic and lack of empathy.
In her Rose Garden speech, the first lady delivered; offering a comforting tone. “The invisible enemy, COVID-19, has swept our beautiful country and affected us all,” she said, notably calling the disease COVID-19, unlike the president who consistently calls it the “Chinese virus” .
“One of the roles of women in [Trump’s] playing in an inner circle, in public, is all about softening the message, ”says Nina Burleigh, author of “The Trump Women: Part of the Deal. “
But post-speech commentators noted that Melania Trump had lost some goodwill in portraying her husband as an honest broker.
“We all know Donald Trump has no secrets about what he thinks about things. Total honesty is what we citizens deserve from our president. ”
“He wants nothing more than the prosperity of this country. And he doesn’t waste time in politics, ”she said.
Unlike previous first ladies
On Tuesday evening, she went out alone, walking to the catwalk in an olive-green two-piece suit, tailored and belted at the waist, unaccompanied by the president who watched with an audience in the garden.
Melania Trump is unlike any first woman. She avoids public speaking, does few interviews, and celebrated her husband’s hand when he attempted to hold it on an official trip to Israel in 2017.
Trump also created Be Best, an initiative to help children reach their potential, raise awareness of the opioid crisis, and deter online bullying.
Over her next four years as First Lady, she boldly said, she would continue this work.
“Helping children is not a political goal, it is our moral imperative,” she said.
But in recent months, with millions of Americans out of work during the pandemic, she has spent time redesigning the rose garden, adding more roses, improving lighting, irrigation and stone paths. The project ended last week, in time for the staging of the convention.
“I also look forward to continuing my work to restore the people’s home, which is a lasting symbol of pride for our nation,” she said.
“I am passionate about this beautiful house, the gardens and everything they represent. ”
In early March, as the pandemic escalated, Trump tweeted a photo of herself with a hard hat looking at plans for a new tennis pavilion on the White House grounds, this which sparked a wave of criticism.
The photo prompted actress Mia Farrow to joke in her own tweet, “29 people were killed by a tornado in Tennessee, the world is shaking as a pandemic escalates and what is a tennis pavilion?” ”
Trump has at times been mocked for the puzzling words she encouraged to play to keep them occupied during the pandemic.
“The virus was here in America, and she was slow to figure that out and engage,” says Kate Bennet, who covers CNN’s First Lady, and who wrote a recent book. Free Melania: The unauthorized biography.
“We haven’t heard from her for a while,” Bennet said. “Many Americans look to the First Lady to be a voice of compassion. ”
Eventually, the pandemic made the first lady stand out more. She tweeted encouragement for the word puzzles and taped stern public service announcements from the White House.
In early April, with 2,000 deaths a day in the United States, she donned a mask and encouraged Americans to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“She’s a professional model and her face is her medium. So, for her, putting on the mask was a real message. And I think she should be credited for doing that, “ it Burleigh.
But Melania Trump has not repeated her previous call to wear masks, while her husband deliberately avoided wearing one until last month. “I have never been against masks, but I think they have a time and a place,” Donald Trump said in July.
The dozens of guests seated side by side in the rose garden on Tuesday evening were not wearing masks.
“She behaves exactly as I expected her to be. Which pretty much fits the administration line, ”says Burleigh.
Rarely responds to reviews
The First Lady is loath to criticize her choices and priorities, especially after commentators pointed out the irony of her campaign against cyberbullying.
“It’s like almost beyond satire, the idea of focusing on cyberbullying when her husband is the number one cyberbully,” says Molly Jong-Fast, editor of The Daily Beast and co-host of The Daily Beast. podcast The new abnormal, who criticized the first lady as “not smart” and not “using her platform for good”.
Trump rarely responds directly to her criticisms, but in a tweet this spring she said: “I encourage anyone who chooses to be negative and question my work at @WhiteHouse to take the time and contribute something good and productive in their own communities. #BeBest. ”
The first lady, however, is popular and an asset to President Trump in this campaign.
« She is very beautiful, very elegant. She has very nice clothes. She has a lot of things that American culture loves, ”says Jong-Fast.
“But there is nothing there. There is nothing behind this beauty. ”
Polls show her approval rating is higher than her husband’s and a Gallup poll in late 2019 suggested she was the second most admired woman in the United States, behind Michelle Obama.
“In this country there are pockets of America where the wife votes with her husband, which is exactly what it is supposed to be. And a beautiful, calm character next to the President is an admirable woman, ”Burleigh says.
It’s a strategy, says Burleigh, which warns those who suggest Melania Trump is trapped, a hostage in the White House.
“I think like he [Trump] getting older, figuratively more unstable on her feet and literally, she has more power in this relationship than young women married to older men, ”she says.
Power struggle in the White House
“He depends on his intervention when he needs it. I think she has power. And I think she uses it when she wants to. ”
But observers say there is a power struggle in the White House between Melania and President Ivanka’s daughter, sometimes referred to as “the First Lady.”
« Melania hasn’t played a role yet, and there really isn’t a role for her because Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka are so involved, ”says Molly Jong-Fast.
A book to be published next week by a former friend of Melania Trump details the alleged turf wars where Melania called Ivanka and her allies “snakes,” author Stephanie Winston Wolkoff writes in Melania and me. ”
Ivanka is expected to introduce her father to the convention on Thursday night.
But Melania has her own distinct power, as a White House maverick, says CNN correspondent Kate Bennet.
“She is neither a political wife nor a seasoned Washington insider. So to expect or anticipate that she is suddenly going to become the standard bearer of what a first lady can and should do, I think we have to readjust our paradigm, ”Bennet says.
“From what I hear from sources, she intends to campaign, to have more active participation as we prepare for the election,” Bennet says, but adds that there is no more campaign events fixed in its program.