BERWYN, Pennsylvania—Although her husband has spent the past 18 months coining uncharitable nicknames for his political foes and pushing the insults out via Twitter, Melania Trump announced today that as First Lady, she would work to stop online bullying.
It was a fittingly bizarre closing pitch from a figure whose every moment on the campaign trail so ar has been overshadowed by catastrophe. Girl-on-girl nude pics, ham-handed plagiarism, a defensive online mob that sent one reporter to the police for protection—2016’s Melania-centric headlines would have generated more attention if this wasn’t the most absurd election in modern American history. Perhaps more than any other single 2016 entity, Melania embodies the way this campaign’s non-stop lunacy has ruined irony forever.
Her first major campaign appearance came when an anti-Trump super PAC posted a Facebook ad in late March featuring a topless picture. The ad was designed to hurt Trump’s numbers with the state’s large, socially conservative Mormon community, as Buzzfeed reported.
Trump blamed rival Ted Cruz, who was not responsible for the ad, and then tweeted out an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz and threatened to “spill the beans” on her. Cruz took so much offense to the tweet that he promised he could never support Trump. It was not a promise Cruz kept; today, he made two campaign stops with Mike Pence.
It wasn’t the only time nude pictures of the wife of Evangelical Christians’ favorite politician drove a news cycle; on July 31, the New York Post published a topless photo of her on their cover, next to the headline “THE OGLE OFFICE.” The next day, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller went on CNN’s Reliable Sources and shrugged the cover off.
“They’re a celebration of the human body as art, and [there’s] nothing to be embarrassed about with the photos,” he said. “She’s a beautiful woman.”
And it’s 2016, so that was that.
But Melania’s biggest campaign moment came a week and a half before the publication of those pictures, at the Republican National Convention, where she delivered a keynote speech that was heavily plagiarized from Michelle Obama. After that, Melania vanished.
Which brings us to today, when she reappeared at long last, schlepping down from Manhattan to the Philly suburb of Berwyn, Pa. to address a crowd that filled slightly less than half of an indoor soccer field. That’s not to say the event was completely unglamorous: VIP attendees (and only VIP attendees) had access to a trio of vending machines, and the porta potties weren’t too far from the building.
Karen Pence, whose husband Mike Pence is a conservative Christian luminary, walked onstage to introduce Melania to the dulcet tones of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” a song inspired by a gynecologist.
In her speech, Melania took care to praise Ronald Reagan (“a true inspiration to me”) and to studiously name the swing states.
“Every time my husband learned of a factory closing, in Ohio or North Carolina or here in Pennsylvania, I saw him get very upset,” she said somberly.
Then she got to the meat of her speech: online bullying.
“As adults many of us are able to handle mean words, even lies,” she said. “Children and teenagers can be fragile. They are hurt when they are made fun of, or made to feel less, in looks or intelligence. This makes their life hard and can force them to hide and retreat.”
“Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers,” she added.
Therefore, she continued, as first lady, online bullying would be one of her “main focuses.”
And with that, she was done. The speech clocked in at almost exactly 15 minutes. The crowd was pleased.
Afterwards, attendees told The Daily Beast they saw no inconsistency in Melania Trump criticizing online bullying while her husband engages in it on a regular basis. Online bullying is terrible, they said, and Trump is going to be a great president.
Cathy Needham, an attendee, said everyone in society needs to treat each other with more respect. As far as Trump’s unique brand of disrespect? Well, she replied, “small potatoes.”
Lisa Wisch, another attendee, also loved Melania’s speech and agreed that bullying is a problem. When asked what she would tell those who note that Trump has bullyish tendencies, she didn’t hesitate.
“I think they need to get a life,” she said.