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Melania Trump Returns to Speak at the RNC, Despite Keeping a Low Profile

2020-08-26 01:09:04
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“Her words.”

That’s the message that aides to Melania Trump, the first lady, have underscored ahead of her headlining speech Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention. Mrs. Trump’s address, which will be delivered live from the newly renovated Rose Garden, will be “authentic,” written without the hidden hand of professional speechwriters. “Every word” of the address, Mrs. Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, said, “is from her.”

It’s a necessary rebuttal to Mrs. Trump’s disastrous appearance at the R.N.C. four years ago in Cleveland, where she had discarded a speech prepared for her by two prominent conservative speechwriters and instead ended up borrowing word-for-word phrases and themes from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention eight years earlier.

But for a first lady who for the past four years has chosen to be seen more than heard, sometimes letting her clothes (a jacket, most infamously) do the talking, a major speech where she shares her own thoughts about her husband’s presidency is more than just an opportunity for a do-over.

Politically, Mrs. Trump’s high-profile role in the convention could mean a boost for President Trump from a surrogate who, in theory, could help sway suburban women voters but who has been disinclined to participate in campaign events. Campaign aides have been eager for more of Mrs. Trump’s time, and she had finally been convinced to participate in fund-raisers in Palm Beach and Beverly Hills back in March, high-dollar gatherings that were ultimately canceled because of the coronavirus. For viewers at home, there is also always the hope that Mrs. Trump’s rare big-ticket address could offer a rarely opened window into Mr. Trump’s personal life.

“We don’t hear from her often, so that means every time we do hear her speak, people are intently listening to what she has to say,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to Laura Bush, the former first lady. “Sometimes the quietest voice in the room is the one who you hear what their message is.”

Mrs. Trump deserves credit, Mrs. McBride noted, for over the years subtly “getting her point across without poking the president in the eye.” While her husband was still promoting an anti-mask message last month from the White House, for instance, Mrs. Trump posted a portrait of herself wearing a face mask on Twitter, and encouraged Americans to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

Mrs. Trump’s speech is likely to represent her biggest contribution to her husband’s campaign. She has made it clear, throughout her time as first lady, that she is committed to doing things her own way, or not at all. Mrs. Trump has never been a natural fit for the office. She generally hated campaigning in 2016, and her main concern throughout her time in public office has been the couple’s teenage son, Barron, with whom she spent most of the month of August secluded at the president’s private golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

For her one big concession to the campaign — the speech — Mrs. Trump considered using Seneca Falls, N.Y., the cradle of the national movement for women’s rights, as a backdrop. But she ultimately decided against it because it was logistically too complicated to pull off.

Meanwhile, Ms. Wolkoff is reported to have secretly recorded the first lady speaking disparagingly about her family, including her stepdaughter, Ivanka Trump, and that the recordings are the partial basis of her forthcoming book, “Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady.” The actual recordings are likely to be given to a news outlet ahead of her book’s publication on Sept. 1, two people familiar with the plan said. Ivanka Trump is set to speak at the convention on Thursday night, when she will introduce her father.

Ms. Wolkoff declined to comment on the existence of the tapes.

Mrs. Trump is also expected to speak on Tuesday night about her own initiative, “Be Best,” an awareness campaign dedicated “to the children of this country and all over the world” that has no clear policy benchmarks through which to measure its success.

Mrs. Trump’s bigger contribution to her husband’s presidency, perhaps, has been on travel abroad, where she has helped elevate him on the world stage. While Mr. Trump has spent time on foreign trips insulting the leaders hosting him, Mrs. Trump has always been a gracious guest by his side, practicing fashion diplomacy by wearing designers from the countries she is visiting, or clothes that nod to the local customs and practices there.

Her most famous fashion faux-pax — when she chose to wear an army green jacket that said “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” on her way to visit a child detention center in Texas — has become a lasting piece of her image as first lady. Aides said she has shrugged it off, along with all of the other criticisms of how she has chosen to take on the role.

“As she has demonstrated time and again, negative coverage does not affect her,” said Ms. Grisham.

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