If only we could have seen the boot camp training montage that preceded Melania Trump’s Monday-night speech at the Republican National Convention. An elocution specialist drilling her on the syllables in “Make Am-er-eek-a Great Again.” An aide with flash cards of old Republicans. Bob Dole, Melania, like the bananas! Wardrobe consultants testing voter reaction to a succession of ever-puffier-sleeved dresses. Now it’s all over, [Teleprompter indicates WINNING SMILE] and you did it, Melania!
A heavy dose of imagination is necessary, because Melania’s speech was not, shall we say, highly evocative. (Nor was it highly original—it seems to have borrowed heavily from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech, as Jarrett Hill pointed out on Twitter.) Yes, it was a successful performance for a woman who hasn’t spent much time in the public eye. Except for those years when she was a model. But in terms of actually saying words in the public eye, Melania hasn’t played a large role in this campaign—she’s only Trump’s wife, after all—so it was a big deal that she was trotted out to speak to the convention in Cleveland. And she gave a competent speech, especially considering that English is not her first language and most of her career thus far has been about being seen and not heard.
It was not a particularly personal speech. There were no sweet anecdotes to humanize Trump or their love story. She did mention that her mother taught her to love fashion, and that she is proud to be an American citizen. The most personal thing she said—a subtle nod toward the fact that her husband is rather unconventional—was that “it would not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama.” A line better-suited to her Real Housewives opening tagline than a convention, perhaps. For a political convention speech, her words were pretty unpolitical. We know her position on Donald Trump (he doesn’t give up, he won’t let us down—she came close to Rickrolling us, there), but not much else about her values or beliefs. Oh and she’s an immigrant, but not the bad kind, so, that too. She spoke, also exceedingly vaguely, about what she would do as first lady: help women and children. Sounds good!
Mostly what the speech accomplished was to show the softer side of Trump. Immediately before she spoke on Monday night, Rudy Giuliani ranted about how unsafe America is and how we’re all going to die. Before him, a bunch of men relayed similar sentiments. So Melania provided a refreshing change of pace. She talked about inclusion, and representing people of all faiths, races, and income levels. Yes, even poor people! The campaign will be “like no other,” she promised. Hey, isn’t that Fairway’s slogan? Unlike Rudy and the others, Melania came off as sincere, as someone who actually believed what she was saying, that Trump is a man who loves America and can get things done and win. “It won’t even be close!” she added, with a touch of her husband’s bombast. Imagine them giggling over writing that line together—it’s a more intimate picture than anything in this speech.