Americans deserve “total honesty” from their president, Melania Trump said in her speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) on Tuesday night.
Bringing proceedings to a close on day two of the gathering, Ms Trump sought to portray the president as a straight-talking politician, determined to speak his mind, regardless of whom it might upset.
“I am here because we need my husband to be our president and commander in chief for four more years,” Ms Trump told the convention, in remarks delivered from the newly renovated White House Rose Garden.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
“We all know Donald Trump makes no secrets about how he feels about things. Total honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our president, whether you like it or not, you always know what he is thinking.”
But the first lady’s comments about her husband’s “honesty” will have bemused fact-checkers at the Washington Post. Just over a month ago, the team revealed that the president had made 20,000 false or misleading claims since assuming office in 2017.
The publication’s Fact Checker column said Mr Trump, who has tacitly given support to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, hit the milestone on 9 July, in what was described as a “tsunami of untruths”.
During his first run for the White House, and throughout his term in office, the president has repeatedly made false or misleading statements while addressing the American people. Most recently, Mr Trump falsely suggested that Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s Democratic running mate, may be ineligible for the vice-presidency because her parents were born abroad.
During her speech, Ms Trump, 50, acknowledged the pain of the coronavirus pandemic, which was in sharp contrast to most other speakers at the White House event, who spoke of the crisis in the past tense – despite more than 1,000 deaths being recorded in the past 24 hours.
The first lady’s warmer tone was out of step with a Republican gathering that has so far featured harsh rhetoric about presidential challenger, Joe Biden, and sometimes apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of Democratic governance.
“I want to acknowledge the fact that since March, our lives have changed drastically,” Ms Trump told the small crowd, as her husband looked on from the front row. “My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one.”
“And my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know: You’re not alone.”
With polls showing the president is haemorrhaging support among college-educated women turned off by his combative style, parts of this year’s RNC have attempted to show Mr Trump’s “human side”.
The first lady, born in Slovenia but a US citizen since 2006, reflected on the racial unrest that has swept the country in the months since the death in May of a black man, George Floyd, under the knee of a white policeman in Minnesota. Protests flared anew this week after Jacob Blake, also black, was shot and left paralysed by police in Wisconsin.
“I urge people to come together in a civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals,” she said. “I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice and never make assumptions based on the colour of a person’s skin.”
The speech by Ms Trump, whose 2016 convention address was marred by plagiarism of lines from a 2008 Michelle Obama speech, capped a day when Republicans attempted to shift the narrative of the presidential election back to the economy – despite mass unemployment amid the pandemic.
Mr Trump, 74, still scores well in opinion polls on the economy, even as approval of his handling of the pandemic and other issues has plunged.
An array of officials and “everyday” Americans cited Mr Trump’s efforts to loosen economic regulations, put “America First” in trade deals and preserve religious freedom as reasons to back him against Mr Biden, 77, Barack Obama’s former vice president.
“Our economic choice is very clear. Do you want economic health, prosperity, opportunity and optimism, or do you want to turn back to the dark days of stagnation, recession and pessimism?” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said.
Mr Trump, a former reality television star, again blurred the line between government and politics on Tuesday as he used the White House as a venue to promote his re-election bid, breaking with decades of tradition and potentially in breach of the law.
On day three of the convention, Republicans will hear speeches from vice-president Mike Pence and his wife Karen, and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway among others.
Additional reporting by Reuters