WASHINGTON — Melania Trump went there.
While others at the Republican National Convention spoke about the coronavirus as a challenge successfully conquered, the first lady on Tuesday night used her address from the Rose Garden to acknowledge the pain of lives lost and families upended by the pandemic.
“I want you to know you’re not alone,” she said to the tens of thousands of families that have been affected. More than 177,000 Americans have been killed by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
She promised that help was on its way from a determined President Donald Trump.
“My husband’s administration will not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone,” she said, speaking to an audience that included the president, vice president and his wife, and her parents.
“Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic,” she added in remarks that were softer in tone than many who spoke before her.
President Trump sought to play down the virus at the beginning of the outbreak, and his handling of the pandemic has been widely criticized by numerous doctors and other medical professionals.
Out of the public view for much of the year, Mrs. Trump stepped into the spotlight Tuesday night to argue for a second term for the president — while trying to avoid the missteps that marred her introduction to the nation when she spoke at the gathering in 2016.
Just like Trump has upended norms of the presidency, Melania Trump has altered what it means to be a modern first lady, from continuing to live in New York City in the administration’s opening months to forcing the ouster of a deputy national security adviser. Not since Nancy Reagan has any first lady asserted herself so publicly in West Wing personnel matters.
Like the president, her tenure can also be defined by its ups and downs.
The first lady arranged a splashy launch for “Be Best,” her signature initiative for children, but was put on the defensive for including anti-cyberbullying when the president regularly uses Twitter to attack anyone he feels has betrayed him.
She rushed to the southern border to visit migrant children after the administration started separating families at the border with Mexico, a rare instance where she publicly opposed the president’s policy.
But en route, the former fashion model donned a green hooded jacket with “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” scrawled on the back. She didn’t wear it around the children, but the baffling wardrobe choice quickly overshadowed the goodwill border visit.
Her announcements this year of two costly though privately funded White House improvement projects — construction of a tennis pavilion and a Rose Garden renovation — opened her to charges of tone-deafness and a flurry of social media commentary likening her to France’s Marie Antoinette. She tweeted that the naysayers should “contribute something good & productive in their own communities” instead of criticizing her.
She has not responded publicly to claims by porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal that they’d had affairs with Trump, to the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and to Trump’s impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House for pushing Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. Trump denies the extramarital relationships and was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.
Mrs. Trump said months ago that she’s ready for another four years.
Only the second foreign-born first lady in U.S. history, Mrs. Trump, 50, is a native of Slovenia, a former communist country in eastern Europe. She gave up studying architecture to pursue a career as a fashion model, arrived in New York in 1996 and met Donald Trump two years later.
She became his third wife in 2005 and gave birth to their now-14-year-old son, Barron, in 2006 — the year she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The first lady spoke from the recently renovated Rose Garden, despite questions about the propriety of using the White House for an overtly political purpose. The coronavirus forced her to scrap many of her 2020 plans, including headlining her first Trump fundraisers.
A low-profile presidential spouse, Mrs. Trump spent the first weeks of the pandemic out of public view before she started posting short videos filmed at the White House to social media underscoring federal guidance about hand-washing, social distancing and wearing face masks as ways to help slow transmission of the virus.
The pandemic marked another instance in which she parted with her husband by offering a more consistent message about mask-wearing than the president, who early on scoffed at the idea of wearing one himself even as he announced federal guidance for the public about doing so.
She posted a photo of herself wearing a mask and wore one in public before Trump did.
One challenge for the first lady was to avoid saying anything that would overshadow the speech. Her 2016 speech was found to have included passages similar to what Michelle Obama had said in her speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
A speechwriter for President Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, later took the blame.
Last week, after Mrs. Obama’s forceful rebuke of Trump in an address to the Democrats’ convention, social media lit up with tongue-in-cheek speculation about whether Mrs. Trump would give the same speech.