Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Our Political Pros Say Melania Almost Saved Trump's Day

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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There will be 20,000 people packed into the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention on four evenings this week, most cheering every attack on Hillary Clinton and every call to make America great again. What counts, though, is how the proceedings come across to millions of viewers and voters who tune in.

Each night Bloomberg View will get an analysis from two of America's smartest political strategists, men who have an unusually good sense of how these events play with the public. They are Fred Davis, who has run scores of Republican campaigns and was the top adviser to the Super PAC supporting Ohio Governor John Kasich's presidential quest this year; and John Sasso, a longtime Democratic adviser who was the leading strategist for the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004. Davis is watching from Los Angeles, Sasso from Massachusetts.

Melania Trump seemed to have bailed out her husband from what could have been a troubled initial day of the Republican convention.

The candidate's wife dazzled Davis and Sasso. That was before anyone realized that she had used a few lines from a Michelle Obama speech in 2008.

"She won the day for him," said Davis. "She came across like Jackie Kennedy, elegant and articulate. It was a huge hit.”

Sasso didn't disagree. "She did a very good job, helped humanize him,” he said. While Ms. Trump, a native of Slovenia, "slipped a little when she got into policy," Sasso said, “she left a very good impression." Of course neither of them knew at that point about later reports of her plagiarism, which marred what would have been the highlight of the evening.

Both political pros said many of the previous speakers had been unimpressive.

Moreover, much of the day and early evening focused on a bitter battle in which the Trump campaign and the Republican national committee beat back a last-ditch anti-Trump effort to change the party rules. The defeated forces charged they were denied fair process; Gordon Humphrey, a conservative former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, called the Trump side "brownshirts who act like fascists."

This somewhat overshadowed the theme of the evening, which was security. The Republicans accused the administration of President Barack Obama and his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton of weakness. They rehashed the 2012 attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead. Subsequent investigations have largely absolved Clinton of blame. The immigration bashing that's been a staple of the Trump campaign was also on display.

Ms. Trump was given an uncharacteristically brief introduction by her husband, but only after he materialized on stage with a Hollywood-style flourish. Davis called it a "hoot" while Sasso said he thought it was over the top.

Sasso, the Democrat, had a harsh assessment of a strident prime-time speech by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spoke before Ms. Trump. "I can't believe they let him speak at 10 o'clock at night,” Sasso said. “He was awful. He scared people."

Davis wasn't as critical, though he said Giuliani spoke for too long. But the Republican said he thought some of the earlier speakers came across as "hayseeds." And he said the two speeches attacking Clinton on Benghazi "were a terrible mistake."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at