Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 October 2020

US ELECTIONS

'Let's reflect on our mistakes,' says Melania Trump in GOP address

The First Lady was one of the only speakers to address the ongoing pandemic

The people closest to US President Donald Trump were spotlighted on the second night of the Republican National Convention as the party showcased Mr Trump's family, who affirmed their support for the president's second term.

First lady Melania Trump delivered Tuesday evening’s keynote address from the recently renovated White House Rose Garden, while the president’s daughter Tiffany and son Eric were also given speaking slots to vouch for their father.

Ms Trump spoke in-person to a group of about 50 people, many not wearing masks, including her husband.

The convention has been largely silent on the coronavirus pandemic, even as the death toll exceeds 181,000 and pandemic-related job losses reach into the millions.

There were more than a dozen speakers included in the evening’s programme, most of them appearing in recorded video or inside a largely empty Washington auditorium.

But Melania Trump was one of the only speakers to directly address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. She looked to strike a compassionate tone during her speech, recognising the tremendous impact of the virus.

"I want to acknowledge the fact that since March our lives have changed drastically, the invisible enemy Covid-19 swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us," she said.

Ms Trump furthered the campaign's incongruent theme as a party that embraces immigration by sharing her personal story about moving to the US.

"I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country, it is a harsh reality, we are not proud of parts of our history," she said.

"I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice," she added. "Instead of tearing things down, let's reflect on our mistakes."

The comments are in step with an emerging theme of the Trump campaign, as it looks to promote itself as a diverse party and distance itself from anti-immigration policies, such as the 'Muslim ban' travel restrictions and family separation policy at the US border. The Trump administration has been plagued by accusations of racism during the president’s term in office.

Out of the public view for much of the year, Ms Trump returned to campaign mode to push for a second term for her husband, while trying to avoid the shadow of plagiarism accusations that marred her first convention address in 2016. Her speech four years ago included passages remarkably similar to what former first lady Michelle Obama had used in her first convention speech in 2008. A speechwriter for the Trump Organisation later took the blame.

As in 2016, the first lady opted not to use a professional speechwriting team for her address, relying instead on her small circle of staff, according to CNN.

Mr Trump’s only scheduled appearance during the second night was to attend his wife’s address, but he played a significant role throughout the programme.

Addressing the racial tensions that have become a central theme of the campaign, Mr Trump pardoned bank robber Jon Ponder, a Black man who founded an organisation that helps prisoners to reintegrate into society.

“We live in a nation of second chances,” Mr Ponder said, standing alongside Mr Trump in a video posted by the White House.

Mr Trump later made an appearance to present five immigrants with US citizenship during a prerecorded naturalisation ceremony.

However, many racial justice activists were dismayed by Kentucky's attorney general Daniel Cameron, a Black man, raising the case of Breonna Taylor during his address. Mr Cameron has faced public scrutiny for his handling of the case and is the target of a Black Lives Matter campaign demanding police accountability for her death. Ms Taylor was a 26-year-old Black woman fatally shot by Louisville police who entered her home in March.

Meanwhile, for a second night Mr Trump's unscripted remarks threatened to overshadow the convention’s carefully crafted message when on Twitter he again raised the unsupported prospect of voter fraud.

“The fraud and abuse will be an embarrassment to our country,” Mr Trump said about the expected reliance on mail ballots by many voters during the pandemic.

Experts say mail voting has proved to be remarkably secure.

With the election just 10 weeks off and early voting starting much sooner, Mr Trump is under increasing pressure to reshape his campaign as the pandemic and its economic devastation shroud any achievements he hoped to campaign on.

Tuesday’s programme is designed around the theme of “Land of Opportunity.”

Convention organisers promised an uplifting and hopeful message, but that was undermined by dark and ominous warnings from Mr Trump and his allies about the country’s future if he should lose in November.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the nation during an official overseas trip in Israel.

Mr Pompeo's appearance breaks with longstanding precedent of sitting secretaries of state avoiding involvement in bipartisan and domestic politics, particularly while abroad.

That his video was filmed in Jerusalem, where he was on an official foreign trip, has raised additional questions of propriety.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deliver a pre-recorded speech from the rooftop of King David hotel in Jerusalem AFP Photo/Republican National Convention
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deliver a pre-recorded speech from the rooftop of King David hotel in Jerusalem AFP Photo/Republican National Convention

Hours before the remarks were aired, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Mr Pompeo discussed strategic relations between the US and UAE on a phone call.

During his primetime address, Mr Pompeo said the UAE and Israel’s Abraham Accord "is the deal that our grandchildren will read about in their history books.”

Mr Pompeo also took aim at Iran, praising Mr Trump for the strike on General Qassem Suleimani and for ending the "disastrous nuclear deal" with Iran.

The secretary of state took full credit for dismantling the Islamic State, saying "the ISIS caliphate is wiped out, it’s gone, it’s evil leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is dead and our brave soldiers, they're on their way home."

Despite his remarks, the UN has reported that as many as 10,000 Islamic State fighters are still active in Iraq and Syria.

One of the only other mentions of coronavirus on Tuesday night came when Mr Pompeo blamed China for the virus.

"The president has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world."

Democrat Joaquin Castro, vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opened an investigation on Tuesday into Mr Pompeo's participation at the Republican convention.

"The Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo have shown a gross disregard not only of basic ethics, but also a blatant willingness to violate federal law for political gain," said Mr Castro.

Early estimates suggest that fewer voters are watching the Republican nominating convention than the Democrats’ event last week.

The featured final hour of Mr Trump’s opening night was seen by 15.8 million people across the top six television networks, the Nielsen company said.

That was down from the 18.7 million who watched Mr Biden’s first night.

Updated: August 26, 2020 09:59 AM

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