CLEVELAND (AP) — One delegate said everyone fell in love with her. Another compared her to Jackie Kennedy.
Melania Trump’s star turn at the Republican National Convention Monday night captivated a GOP crowd that had rarely heard from her through months of her husband’s tumultuous 2016 White House campaign.
“He is tough when he has to be, but he is also kind and fair and caring,” Mrs. Trump said. “This kindness is not always noted, but it is there for all to see. That is one reason I fell in love with him to begin with.”
Presenting a softer and gentler Donald Trump, the Slovenian-born former model 24 years his junior also reintroduced herself, showing poise as well as devotion to her adopted country and to her husband’s cause. Mrs. Trump, appearing in a striking white dress with elbow-length sleeves ending in big, puffy cuffs, spoke after an uncharacteristically brief introduction from her husband, who kissed her and called her “my wife, an amazing mother, an incredible woman.”
Prior to Monday, Mrs. Trump had spoken on her husband’s behalf only a few times, and briefly, and her remarks Monday lasted roughly 10 minutes as she spoke slowly in heavily accented English. But afterward delegates were gushing.
“I think she’s going to be a great asset. She’s just magnificent,” said John Salm, a delegate from Virginia. “Honestly she reminds me of Jackie Kennedy.”
“I think everybody fell in love with her tonight,” said Deedee Kelly, a delegate from Omaha, Nebraska. “She seemed to talk from her heart, she really did.”
The 46-year-old made clear her love for her husband, testifying to a softer side of the blustering real estate mogul the country knows. And without dwelling on her own humble upbringing in an industrial town in what was then a part of communist Yugoslavia, she spoke of her family, her sister Ines, her “elegant and hard-working mother Amalia,” and her father Viktor, who “instilled in me a passion for business and travel.”
“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say,” Mrs. Trump said, adding that she has passed those values to the couple’s 10-year-old son, Barron.
Mrs. Trump also gave a hint of what she might try to do as first lady.
“I will use that wonderful privilege to try to help people in our country who need it the most,” she said, describing helping children and women as “one of the many causes dear to my heart.”
Even as she largely avoided the spotlight prior to Monday, Mrs. Trump briefly became an issue in the race in March, when an anti-Trump super PAC released an ad with a risque photo of her from a GQ magazine photo shoot, showing her handcuffed to a briefcase, lying on a fur blanket.
“Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady,” the ad said.
Trump responded by re-tweeting side-by-side images of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife, with an unflattering grimace, and Mrs. Trump in a gauzy, glamorous pose.
If Trump were to be elected president, Mrs. Trump would be the only first lady who is the third wife of a president and the first to be born and raised in a communist nation. She wouldn’t be the first model — Pat Nixon and Betty Ford both modeled, too. And Louisa Adams, who was born in England, was the first president’s wife to be born in another country.
The glitter and glitz of being Donald Trump’s wife is a far cry from the sleepy southeastern industrial town of Sevnica, where she was born in 1970 as Melanija Knavs. Her father was a car dealer while her mother worked in a textile factory. The family lived in apartment blocks overlooking a river and smoking factory chimneys.
She found an escape through modeling when she was spotted in the Slovenian capital by a photographer. At age 16, she took modeling jobs in Milan and Paris. She changed her name to Melania Knauss and settled in New York in 1996. Two years later, she met her future husband at a party in Manhattan.
Follow Erica Werner and Scott Bauer on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ericawerner and http://twitter.com/sbauerAP . Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed.