What to watch for on Day 2 of the Republican National Convention

Key Points
  • As the second night of the Republican National Convention begins, the party is rallying around President Donald Trump with a near-religious devotion, but the four-day event lacks a unified theme or guiding principles. 
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has drawn bipartisan scrutiny over his decision to endorse Trump's reelection in a speech while on a taxpayer-funded diplomatic trip to Israel.
  • Tuesday offers Melania Trump something she rarely gets and rarely seeks: A big national spotlight to deliver a big speech.
Eric Trump, the son of U.S. President Donald Trump, delivers a pre-recorded speech to the largely virtual Republican National Convention broadcast from the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, U.S., August 25, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

WASHINGTON — As the second night of the Republican National Convention begins, the party is rallying around President Donald Trump with a near-religious devotion. But Trump notwithstanding, the four-day event lacks a unifying theme.

In place of adopting a party platform this year, the GOP resolved last week to keep the 2016 platform, despite its numerous awkward references to a failed economic recovery and the urgent need for someone new in the White House. This year, the party said, it will just "enthusiastically support the President's America-first agenda." 

Perhaps it's not surprising that a party lacking defined principles would put on a convention that feels disjointed. Aside from their unanimous praise of Trump, Monday's speakers addressed a hodgepodge of issues, from gun rights to medical experiments, from telehealth for Covid-19 to hostage return. 

And judging by the speaker lineup, Tuesday night will offer more of the same. 

A buffet of issues

The official slogan of Tuesday night is "Land of Opportunity." But many of the speakers during the first two hours of the program will try to soften some of Trump's most controversial moments in office, including his immigration policy, his tariff and trade wars and his relentless battle against the press.

Speakers on Tuesday include Jason Joyce, a Maine lobsterman who says that Trump helped his industry, and Mary Ann Mendoza, the mother of a police officer who was killed in a 2014 auto collision with an undocumented immigrant. Anti-abortion rights activist Abby Johnson will also speak, as will Nick Sandmann, a teenager who gained national attention in 2019 after his interaction with a Native American demonstrator at the Lincoln Memorial went viral. 

Two of Trump's adult children, Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump, are featured speakers, as is Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian conservative from Kentucky who has not always sided with Trump. Another speaker hailing from Kentucky is Daniel Cameron, the state's Republican attorney general. Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi is also on Tuesday's roster.

The two most noteworthy speeches on Tuesday will come from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and first lady Melania Trump, who will speak last from the newly renovated White House Rose Garden. 

Convention organizers say Trump will attend the first lady's speech around 10:30 p.m., but that's almost certainly not going to be the only time the president appears on camera tonight. 

Pompeo auditions for 2024

The secretary of state's speech has drawn scrutiny ever since it was announced, and for good reason. Rather than deliver his endorsement of Trump from the official convention venue in Washington, or from his home, Pompeo has chosen to use the backdrop of a taxpayer-funded diplomatic trip to Israel for his overtly political speech. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a brief photo opportunity before a meeting with Republic of Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides at the U.S. Department of State on November 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

And while Pompeo and his staff insist he did not spend taxpayer resources to deliver the actual speech, ethics experts say that using an official trip to do partisan campaign work is, at the very least, a violation of ethics guidelines and could even be a violation of the law.

But for Pompeo, an ambitious former House member who has made no secret of his desire to run for president in 2024, the criticism is worth it in order to address the nation from the roof of the historic King David Hotel in Jerusalem, with the panorama of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious sites in the old city as a backdrop.

"For Pompeo, I think this is much more about 2024 than it is about right now," said Dan Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School. "If he wants to run for president in 2024, he obviously wants to lock up the evangelical bloc, and giving a speech in the old city of Jerusalem is one way in which he can appeal to them."

In a different administration, perhaps, one might expect the president to discourage such a use of taxpayer funds by his secretary of state. But not in the Trump administration, said Heather Hurlburt, a former State Department speechwriter and a policy director at the left-leaning New America Foundation. 

"Trump is just not at all interested in differentiating between national power and personal power," Hurlburt told CNBC. "And he doesn't draw the line between what's good for the government and what's good for Donald Trump."

Melania Trump's big night

Tuesday night offers Melania Trump something she rarely gets and rarely seeks: A big national spotlight to deliver a big speech.

As one of the most private first ladies in modern presidential history, Melania Trump is a relatively unknown quantity to most Americans, although she enjoys generally positive approval ratings. 

One of the things that often gets overlooked about Melania Trump is that she's a very effective advocate for her husband, able to humanize her often divisive and bombastic spouse in ways that no one else can. This is what she is widely expected to do on Tuesday — share a more personal, emotionally resonant side of the president. 

Those who closely follow national politics also know that if Tuesday's speech goes well, it could be a sort of redemption for the first lady, after her last convention speech in 2016 contained several lines that seemed to have been lifted straight from speeches by then-first lady Michelle Obama.

Melania Trump speaks during the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016
Mike Segar | Reuters

On Tuesday, Trump's chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, said this year would not be a repeat of 2016.

"We've been working really hard the last three weeks, and I can tell you that every word in this speech is from her," Grisham told MSNBC. "It's very authentic, and it's going to come from the heart, so we're really excited for people to hear from her." 

In a later interview on Fox News, Grisham also pointed out that the first lady is an immigrant from Slovenia and said this part of her biography would figure into her speech Tuesday night. "This is a first lady that really embodies the American dream," said Grisham. "She came from a working-class family, and she is an immigrant who came to this country and worked very, very hard to achieve her dreams." 

Convention coverage on cable news channels and CNBC.com will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET. Coverage on network prime time begins at 10 p.m.

— CNBC's Amanda Macias contributed to this report.