Melania Trump's convention speech went over very well Monday night — until it didn't. Here were the high stakes she faced heading into her first big campaign speech, ahead of the plagiarism allegations that overshadowed her performance.
Shortly after the Republican National Convention briefly erupted into a rules fight on Monday afternoon, the Boston Globe's Matt Viser tweeted this:
A joke, yes, but the potential future first lady does take the stage Monday night at the GOP convention with something to prove. And a new Gallup poll shows why: She enters as the least-liked potential first lady since at least 1992.
While Americans are split on Melania Trump -- 28 percent view her favorably, while 32 percent view her unfavorably -- they've otherwise entered conventions with positive views of the candidates' spouses. In fact, most candidates' spouses have entered this phase with more than twice as many people liking them as disliking them.
Back in 1992, Americans viewed Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly positively heading into the Democratic National Convention. A majority -- 55 percent -- liked her, while 26 percent disliked her. Michelle Obama's split before the 2008 Democratic convention was 53/25. Tipper Gore in 2000 (57/18) and Elizabeth Dole in 1996 (51/18) both earned positive reviews from a majority, and Cindy McCain in 2008 was more than two-to-one positive (47/20).
Ann Romney in 2012 had a slightly less favorable image, but she was still in very positive territory, at 42/24. Teresa Heinz Kerry in 2004 (31/19) and Laura Bush in 2000 (30/8) were less well-known but also viewed positively, on balance.
In fact, Melania Trump's positive number is lower than all of these potential and eventual first ladies, and her negative numbers is higher than all of them as well.
Trump is also less popular than the other potential first spouse in this election. Former president Bill Clinton still earns positive marks from Americans, with a CNN poll last month showing his split at 51/45.
Both Clinton and Trump, we should emphasize, are likely paying a price for the unpopularity of their spouses. Bill Clinton was viewed much more favorably before the 2016 campaign got rolling, and both he and Melania Trump's spouses rank as the most unpopular presidential nominees in recent American history.
Trump, perhaps not surprisingly, is viewed positively 48/13 by Republicans and negatively 50/17 by Democrats. Independents tilt negative, 33/22.
But it's not clear how much Melania Trump has registered with the American public in her own right. As our own Callum Borchers notes, she's been a limited presence on the campaign trail for months.
[Daughter] Ivanka Trump is an impressive and capable surrogate, no doubt, but Melania's general absence has left a void in the media narrative about Donald Trump. Ivanka, after all, did not choose her father; she is naturally inclined to see the best in him and to overlook his faults.
Melania, who initially rejected Donald's advances, is uniquely positioned to tell the press and the electorate why she changed her mind about the business mogul — why characterizations of him as rude, impulsive and domineering are wrong, or at least incomplete. Because she has seldom done this, media interest in her speech is all the higher.
That will change in a big way Monday night. But what's clear is that Americans aren't predisposed to like her in the way they have liked other first ladies. That's partly a function of our polarized time and her husband's troubles.
But it's also true that she could do a lot to improve those dismal views of her husband -- and improve her own image ratings in the meantime. That effort starts Monday night.