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US.. First Lady Melania Trump addresses the Republican Convention during its second day from the Rose Garden of the White House on Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington, DC.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

If you were to judge the Republican and Democratic party conventions of the past two weeks based on their sheer production value alone, it would not be much of a contest. The Democratic event lacked imagination. The GOP put on a show.

Bowing to the extreme political correctness of their woke-dominated base, the Democrats imposed such strict pandemic-era protocol that their event became a low-energy and foreboding affair instead of a rah-rah session in advance of a tough campaign. Most speakers delivered their addresses on empty and echoless soundstages.

There were occasional moments of flourish and clever stagecraft, such as former president Barack Obama’s speech from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Mr. Obama crystallized better than any other speaker, including Democratic nominee Joe Biden or his vice-presidential running mate Kamala Harris, what is really at stake in this election.

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“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously,” Mr. Obama said of his successor in the White House. “But he never did. Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

Unfortunately for the Democrats, the Republicans so upstaged them this week that the GOP will enter the final stretch before the November vote with a far more energized base of supporters. Unbound by the strictures of pandemic correctness, and shameless in their exploitation of patriotic symbols for partisan purposes, the Republicans rolled out a convention that was often captivating.

Politics aside, it was simply better television than the listless Democratic event.

Mr. Trump hired producers who had worked on his former NBC reality show, The Apprentice, to oversee “his” convention and it showed. The GOP gathering was a seamless series of slick, feel-good videos, rousing testimonies by unlikely Trump supporters and calls to action to protect the United States from the angry mobs running roughshod over Democratic-run cities.

Yes, it was highly manipulative – as all reality shows are. The appearance by the Missouri couple who wielded guns at Black Lives Matters protestors marching outside their suburban home last month set a new standard for dog-whistle politics. “What happened to us could just as easily happen to any of you watching from quiet neighbourhoods across the country,” they warned.

There was, however, one moment of disjointedness – even if it did make for great TV – when Melania Trump addressed the convention, piercing the bubble of denial maintained by other speakers. The First Lady spoke pointedly about the pandemic, offering her sympathy to families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Unlike her husband, she did not call it the “China virus.”

Ms. Trump has been the most enigmatic First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy, which is not to say she is anything like Jackie. Ms. Trump seems wholly uninvested and uninterested in her husband’s political career, to the point that many people on social media still muse about her being held at the White House against her own will. Savvier observers think she is playing a clever game.

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Whatever she is up to, it is fascinating to watch. As she strode to the podium in the Rose Garden she recently had landscaped according to her tastes, jaws dropped at a dress that made it look as if she was channeling Joseph Stalin or Fidel Castro. For a woman having grown up under Communist rule in Slovenia, it was a choice of attire too unsubtle to be just a dress.

But it was quintessential Melania Trump. Was she sending out a coded message of sorts, as many people insisted was the case when she once wore a similarly coloured jacket with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE DO U?” emblazoned on the back?

For all her efforts at sounding supportive of her husband during her speech, you did not get a sense she believed her own words. At times, she even seemed to be mocking him, as when she said: “We all know Donald Trump makes no secret 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’s thinking.” Note that she did not say her husband was honest, even if he probably interpreted it that way. Perhaps she really is that much smarter than him.

That Ms. Trump was able to deliver a speech that strayed so far from the script of the rest of Republican convention suggests that she is a powerful force in her own right. She is reported to have used her leverage after Mr. Trump’s unexpected 2016 election victory to renegotiate her prenuptial agreement as a condition for accompanying her husband to Washington.

So, it should not come as a surprise that she would resort to a few Apprentice-like tactics of her own as her husband tries to get re-elected. It kind of makes you wonder why she hasn’t fired him yet.

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