ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's Day 2 of the Republican National Convention. Last night's speakers took an apocalyptic view of what would happen if President Trump doesn't win in November. Here's how his son Donald Trump Jr. contrasted President Trump against Vice President Biden.
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DONALD TRUMP JR: It's almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work and school versus rioting, looting and vandalism.
SHAPIRO: Tonight's keynote speaker will be first lady Melania Trump, and she is expected to take a more positive view.
Here to preview the evening is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the first lady's role tonight.
LIASSON: Well, you know, with the exception of Michelle Obama, who was a cultural icon, first ladies are generally not the most important speakers at conventions. But they do have the power to humanize their spouse, the president, and validate his character in a way that other speakers can't. There was some controversy when Melania Trump spoke at the convention in 2016 because some of the lines in her speech were identical to one of Michelle Obama's speeches. But her chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, said today on MSNBC that that is not going to happen this time.
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STEPHANIE GRISHAM: I can tell you that every word in this speech is from her. It's very authentic. And it's going to come from the heart, so we're really excited for people to hear from her. It will be one of her longer speeches that she's given. And I think the American people will be really excited to hear some of the things that she's going to say.
LIASSON: You know, the setting for Melania's speech is also controversial. She's going to appear in the Rose Garden of the White House. That's traditionally been off-limits for partisan politics, but the president has violated that norm repeatedly. And Grisham says the White House is her home. And even though the staff - her staff are subject to the Hatch Act, which limits the kind of political activities they can be involved in, first ladies are not subject to the Hatch Act. And Grisham says, everyone on her staff has been very careful to abide by the rules.
SHAPIRO: Another speech that will be given from a controversial location tonight - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem. How unusual is that?
LIASSON: Very unusual - secretaries of state don't usually mix policy and politics. There's even a State Department memo that says department officials can't advocate for a candidate, can't attend political conventions. But Pompeo says - his staff says he's speaking in his personal capacity. And his remarks were taped in Jerusalem. Of course, that's where President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to when he took office. And he's been very open about the domestic political reasons for that. He said last week, the reason I moved the embassy was, quote, "for the evangelicals," a very important part of his base.
SHAPIRO: The whole goal is to persuade voters. So where does the race stand today?
LIASSON: Well, that's pretty interesting because it doesn't look like Joe Biden got much of a bounce from his convention, doesn't seem to have pulled the president's numbers down or Biden's numbers up very much. So the race is stuck. Biden still has a lead. It's very stable. It's narrower in the battleground states. But we have seen big leads disappear in the past. Mike Dukakis came out of his convention with a 17-point bounce. And, of course, he lost the election to George H.W. Bush.
And today at a Politico event, Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, laid out a path for how they think Trump can win. He pointed out correctly that all the president has to do is win one of the three key states - Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania - without losing any of the other states he won in 2016, and he will be reelected. And he even expressed optimism about flipping some states they didn't win last time like New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada - so lot that can happen in 70 days.
SHAPIRO: Just briefly, what did you make of the way the Republicans addressed the coronavirus pandemic last night?
LIASSON: I think the Republicans made a big effort to deal with what is the president's biggest liability - his net negative rating on how he's handled the pandemic. The president has been trying to do this for some time himself, appearing at the White House every day to talk about all the things that he's done. But this was a bigger audience; a lot of validators come out. But it's hard to see how even four days of a convention would be enough to move public opinion on this because...
LIASSON: He spent months downplaying the virus in daily TV appearances.
SHAPIRO: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.