The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Melania Trump’s convention speech was a moment of calm amid the Trump family rant

First lady Melania Trump highlighted the successes of her Be Best campaign during her Republican National Convention speech on Aug. 25. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The family did the president no great service. Donald Trump looked no better and no worse. He remained the aggrieved pugilist that the country has come to know.

The first lady, however, acquitted herself ably on the second night of the Republican National Convention, casting herself with particular warmth. And leaving the president mostly in the cold. While the rest of the family was raging against the Democrats and the unfairness of the media, and the tech titans and entrenched Washington forces, Melania Trump was gliding above it all, unwilling to sully herself with another rendition of the Trump family rant.

She spoke calmly and quietly of kindness and compassion. She offered her “deepest sympathy” to those who have lost loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic. She assured suffering families that they are not alone, and recognized the fear that dominates the national psyche.

And while she mentioned “my husband” — the president, Donald Trump — the empathy that she made a point of communicating did not cast the anger-fueled politician in a more flattering light. It only made his propensity to swing wildly and desperately into the air more evident.

Melania Trump made a grand entrance as the final speaker on Tuesday evening. She strode along the dramatically lit colonnade and into the recently refurbished Rose Garden — the most obvious example of her work as first lady. Dressed in an olive jacket and skirt with a wide belt cinched around her waist, she settled in behind the lectern set up before a modest audience and locked in on the teleprompters. Her eyes were wide and her start was stiff, but as she began to talk about her parents — thanking them for their love and support — she smiled and relaxed.

She highlighted her Be Best campaign — in all of its impossible-to-measure non-specificity about anti-bullying. She reminded listeners that she is concerned about opioid addiction. She glossed over the administration’s falsehoods, exaggerations and misdirection. And when she focused on the recent racial unrest, she used a word that has been anathema to her husband’s administration: mistakes.

“I urge people to come together in a civil manner,” the first lady said. “Instead of tearing things down, let’s reflect on our mistakes . . . and look to a way forward.”

The president sat in the audience listening, and when she concluded, he stood and applauded and gave her a kiss and said . . . nothing. The man who is a moth to the spotlight allowed his wife to have it to herself.

Her subdued manner set her apart from the rest of the Trump family, which seemed agitated and boiling over with a need to out-bombast one another.

The Post’s live coverage of the Republican National Convention

By the convention’s second night, the nation had heard from Trump’s two bearded sons, his youngest daughter and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend. None of them told recalcitrant voters about a kind man who perhaps has been hidden from public view. They didn’t try to make anyone chuckle over his foibles; they didn’t poke the bear.

They offered no insight into the moral challenges of his daunting office — the things that weigh heavily on his heart. Indeed, they didn’t speak of his heart.

They certainly didn’t provide reassurance that the president understands that empathy isn’t defined by reveling in someone’s success but rather in commiserating over their losses.

Instead, the boys came to pummel Joe Biden, to speak of the treachery of Democrats and to echo their father’s grievances. And if repetition is a measure of outrage, nothing has ticked off these siblings — and the rest of the Republicans, for that matter — more than football players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Of all the things that might spark fury, it’s this symbolic gesture that seems to most rile folks up. Not even the fact that more than 175,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus infections caused such emotive, fist-pumping outrage. But then, in the inverted reality of Trumpland that has unspooled over two nights, the pandemic is past tense. Only the first lady seemed aware of the crisis.

Eric Trump wore a blue tie, like his dad, and said he missed working with him. “I love you very much,” Eric said to the cameras at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington. That was akin to a gusher of sentimentality.

Tiffany Trump strode out in a powder blue jacket and trousers with slits along the calves and a matching sparkling top. Her platinum hair was parted down the middle and her eyes were rimmed in kohl, and the whole ensemble seemed oddly festive for standing in front of a microphone and no audience.

She spent her time discussing how the election was a fight for freedom vs. oppression. She alighted briefly on the subject of health care and then moved on to the problematic media and conspiracy theories. “Why are we prevented from seeing certain information?” she mused. “The answer is control.” And by the end, it was unclear whether she was speaking about her father or some guy she was soliciting signatures for so he could get on the local ballot.

The night before, Donald Trump Jr., the oldest of the siblings — the one whose rage has had the most time to steep — called Biden the “Loch Ness monster of the swamp.” His eyes were red and watery; his fingers were clutched together like lobster claws; and his snarl was extravagant.

Guilfoyle did not snarl, but she shouted and emoted as if trying to be heard in the rafters of a cavernous convention hall even though she was just speaking to a television camera. Her voice lowered by an octave halfway through her speech, and by the end she was raising both arms up in a rapturous gesture and screaming, “We light things up; we don’t dim them down. We build things up; we don’t burn them down. We kneel in prayer and we stand for our flag!”

She did the president no favors. But she made sure everyone heard his message.