Facing a fraught national moment, U.S. President Donald Trump accepted his party’s renomination on a massive stage on the White House South Lawn on Thursday night, breaking with tradition by using the executive mansion as a political backdrop and defying pandemic guidelines to address a tightly packed, largely maskless crowd.
As crises churned outside the gates, Trump painted an optimistic vision of the country’s future, including an eventual triumph over the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 175,000 people in the U.S., left millions unemployed and rewritten the rules of society.
Trailing Biden in opinion polls, he blistered the former vice-president’s record and even questioned his love of America.
“We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years,” Trump said. “At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies or two agendas.”
Presenting himself as the last barrier protecting an American way of life under siege from radical forces, Trump declared that “Joe Biden and his party repeatedly assailed America as a land of racial, economic and social injustice.”
WATCH | Part 2 of Trump’s acceptance speech:
“So tonight I ask you a very simple question: How can the Democrat Party ask to lead our country when it spends so much time tearing down our country?” Trump said. “In the left’s backward view, they do not see America as the most free, just and exceptional nation on Earth. Instead, they see a wicked nation that must be punished for its sins.”
As his speech brought the scaled-back Republican National Convention to a close, Trump risked inflaming a divided nation reeling from a series of calamities, including the pandemic, a major hurricane that slammed into the Gulf Coast and nights of racial unrest and violence after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by a white Wisconsin police officer.
At one point, appearing to refer to the unrest in Kenosha, Wisc., he said that the justice system must and will hold accountable anyone who engages in police misconduct and that “mob rule” must never be allowed.
‘I love you for being real’
Trump was introduced by his daughter Ivanka, an influential White House adviser, who portrayed the famously bombastic Trump as someone who has shaken up Washington with little regard for norms or niceties.
“Dad, people attack you for being unconventional, but I love you for being real. And I respect you for being effective,” she said.
WATCH | Ivanka Trump says her father has changed Washington:
Instead of letting Washington change him, she told the crowd that Trump changed Washington, and she said the U.S. needs four more years of leadership from the “warrior” in the White House.
The president spoke from a setting that was both familiar and controversial. Despite tradition and regulation to not use the White House for purely political events, a huge stage was set up outside the executive mansion, dwarfing the trappings for some of the most important moments of past presidencies. The speaker’s stand was flanked by dozens of American flags and two big video screens.
Trying to run as an insurgent as well as incumbent, Trump rarely includes calls for unity, even in a time of national uncertainty. He has repeatedly, if not always effectively, tried to portray Biden — who is considered a moderate Democrat — as a tool of the radical left, fringe forces he has claimed don’t love their country.
The Republicans claim that the violence that has erupted in Kenosha and some other American cities is to be blamed on Democratic governors and mayors. Vice-President Mike Pence on Wednesday said that Americans wouldn’t be safe in “Joe Biden’s America.”
Keeping with that theme, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell painted a dystopian picture of what the U.S. would look like with Democrats in charge of the Senate.
The Kentucky Republican said that “today’s Democrat Party doesn’t want to improve life for middle America.” He said, “They prefer that all of us in flyover country keep quiet and let them decide how we should live our lives,” adding, “They want to tell you what kind of car you can drive, what sources of information are credible and even how many hamburgers you can eat.”
The comment propagates a falsehood that Democratic proponents of the Green New Deal, which seeks to radically overhaul the U.S. economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, would limit beef consumption.
None of the proponents of the Green New Deal have suggested outlawing beef consumption or seizing pickup trucks.
The line was carried on by Rudy Giuliani, who painted a grim portrait of violence in the U.S. as he endorsed Trump.
The Trump personal attorney and former New York mayor said that a vote for Biden is a vote for “soft on crime” policies and risks a continuation of the “wave of lawlessness” that he says is ravaging the country. He says the riots in American cities give “you a good view” of what life would be like in a Biden administration, though the current violence is happening during Trump’s administration.
WATCH | Giuliani says Trump will make U.S. safe again:
Giuliani made no mention of the Russia investigation, in which he defended Trump, or his role in trying to dig up dirt on Biden in Ukraine. The saga ended up with Trump getting impeached by the Democratic-led House, but he was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.
Despite Trump’s not mentioning the shooting of Jacob Blake this week, the highest-ranking Black staffer in the White House said he’s seen Trump’s “true conscience” in the aftermath of recent high-profile killings of Black men and boys.
In a pre-recorded speech Thursday, Ja’Ron Smith said that he wishes everyone else could see the “deep empathy” Trump shows families whose loved ones were taken by senseless violence.
Smith specifically named Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia, George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minn., and four-year-old LeGend Taliferro of Kansas City.
An assistant to the president for domestic policy, Smith helped craft an executive order that Trump recently issued to address changes to policing that have been demanded in the wake of Floyd’s killing in May by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Democrats for Trump
Following a video montage of comments from voters who identified themselves as coming from across the political spectrum but are now Trump supporters, a New Jersey congressman who switched from Democrat to Republican said he deserted his former party when it “moved from liberal to radical.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew claimed that Biden isn’t in control of his own candidacy and “is being told what to do by the radicals running my former party.”
Van Drew broke with his party and voted against impeaching Trump — a move that bolstered Republican attempts to depict Democrats as divided on the matter. Last year, he switched parties to become a Republican in the November election, promising Trump his “undying support.”
Some demonstrations took to Washington’s streets Thursday night, ahead of a march planned for the next day. New fencing set up along the White House perimeter was to keep the protesters at bay, but some of their shouts and car horns were clearly audible on the South Lawn where more than 1,500 people gathered.
Soon after Trump began talking, the horns and sirens — which came through occasionally to the millions watching at home — caused some people in the last row to turn around and look for the source of the disturbance.
Those chants, coming from masked faces intruded on another illusion that the Republicans have spent a week trying to create: that the pandemic is largely a thing of the past. The rows of chairs on the lawn were tightly packed, inches apart. Protective masks were not required, and coronavirus tests were not to be administered to everyone.
Wrapping up the more than 70-minute speech, he listed the achievements of the nation’s pioneers and pledged to forge achievements in energy development, technological advancement and space exploration, including putting the first woman on the moon.
Under his leadership in a second presidential term, Trump said the country would “prove worthy of magnificent legacy.”