You can watch coverage of the Republican National Convention here tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET.
U.S. President Donald Trump turned a surprise opening-day appearance at his party’s scaled-down national convention into an opportunity to question the integrity of the fall election, even as his aides promised a diverse and uplifting message once the evening program shifted back to Washington, D.C. for prime time.
Trump, who was not scheduled to deliver his keynote convention address until later in the week, nevertheless made multiple public appearances throughout the first day of the four-day convention. And while the evening programming was carefully scripted, Trump was not.
“The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Trump said during his midday appearance. The convention kicked off with a day of “official business” in Charlotte before moving to Washington, D.C. for prime-time programming.
Trump reached the necessary threshold of 1,276 votes shortly after noon ET, an entirely expected development given he received little opposition in Republican primaries, with some states even barring other potential candidates from running.
WATCH | Republican strategist says Trump has to convince voters he’s handling the pandemic well:
Trump has sought to minimize the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, but its impact was plainly evident at the Charlotte Convention Center, where just 336 delegates gathered instead of the thousands once expected to converge on this city for a week-long extravaganza. Attendees sat at well-spaced tables at first and masks were mandatory, though many flouted the regulation.
Attendees crowded close to the stage when Trump spoke.
After immediately launching into unsubstantiated allegations about spying on his campaign in 2016, Trump addressed the stakes for the Nov. 3 vote.
In a nearly hour-long speech, he once again sowed doubts about the integrity of November’s election as he laced into mail-in voting, which experts say has proven remarkably safe.
“Be very, very careful,” he told the crowd as he concluded. “This is the most important election in the history of the country. Don’t let them take it away from you.”
WATCH | Trump says Democrats are trying to steal the election from Republicans:
Trump then launched into a series of economic indicators including stock market performance and auto sales to indicate that the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is proceeding apace.
The Republican Party also nominated Mike Pence as vice-presidential nominee on Monday morning.
Pence called it the “greatest honour” in his life to have served since January 2017 as vice-president and, with a nod to last week’s Democratic convention, made a pitch for re-election.
“I heard last week that democracy is on the ballot, but I think we all know the economy is on the ballot. Law and order is on the ballot. Our most cherished ideas of freedom and free market are on the ballot,” said Pence.
“We’re going to make America great again. Again.”
Besides the formal nomination roll call, the party was also planning a handful of new resolutions, including one that backs Columbus Day as a federal holiday and one that labels the Southern Poverty Law Center, which catalogs the country’s hate groups, as a “radical organization.”
Another bemoans “cancel culture,” warning that it “has grown into erasing of history, encouraging lawlessness, muting citizens and violating free exchange of ideas, thoughts and speech.”
Aides hope the convention will give them a chance to recast the story of Trump’s presidency and shift the campaign’s thrust from a referendum on him to a choice between his vision for America’s future and the one presented by Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“We are obviously disappointed we could not hold this event in the same way we had originally planned,” said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. But she thanked the city for allowing the convention to move forward in its truncated form.
Tension within the party
The evening program highlighted the tension within Trump’s Republican Party. His harsh attacks against Democrats who are trying to expand mail voting and demonstrators protesting deaths in police custody, for example, often delight his die-hard loyalists. Yet convention organizers are also featuring a diverse lineup with a more inclusive message designed to expand Trump’s political coalition beyond his white, working-class base.
Two of the three coveted final speaking slots Monday night went to people of colour who have been openly critical of Trump in the past, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The lineup also featured Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple arrested after pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their home.
“Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals, but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens,” the McCloskeys said in prepared remarks that broke from the optimistic vision for America organizers promised.
“Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”
The program also included a collection of average Americans praising Trump’s leadership: a public school teacher from California, a small business owner from Montana and a nurse practitioner from Virginia.
One of several African Americans on the schedule, former football star Herschel Walker, defended the president against those who call him a racist.
“It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald,” Walker said in prepared remarks. “The worst one is `racist.’ I take it as a personal insult that people would think I would have a 37-year friendship with a racist.”
Some of the planned remarks for the evening program were prerecorded, while others were to be delivered live from a Washington auditorium.
Melania Trump will speak Tuesday from the Rose Garden, Pence will appear from Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Wednesday and Trump will deliver his marquee acceptance speech on Thursday from the South Lawn at the White House before a crowd of supporters — blurring the lines between governing and campaigning yet again.
In addition to the president’s son, Donald Jr., and Haley, Monday’s list of speakers includes members of Congress Matt Gaetz of Florida, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.