In one of the most dramatic, polarizing, not to mention longest ever (at 75 minutes, it was the longest since 1972), convention speeches, Donald Trump claimed the Republican presidential nomination with a highly charged text in which he promised to be “the voice” of disenfranchised Americans and the guardian of “law and order” as president.
“Friends, delegates and fellow Americans, I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States,” Trump said to raucous chants of “USA, USA, USA” from the delegates in the Quicken Loans arena in Cleveland.
“Our plan will put America First. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump repeated on Thursday. “The American People will come first once again. My plan will begin with safety at home, which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order.”
“Every day I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been ignored, neglected and abandoned,” Trump said in a prime-time speech that lasted for more than an hour. “These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am your voice.”
“We cannot afford to be politically correct any more,” said Trump, resurrecting one of the core themes of the anti-establishment movement that has propelled the New York property developer one more step closer to the White House. Setting his sights on Clinton, Trump described his White House rival as a puppet who would maintain the status quo. “Things have to change, and they have to change right now. Big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent because they know she will keep our rigged system in place”.
He also pitched himself as the “law and order” candidate, following the recent rise in attacks on police in the US. Stressing the need to tackle Islamist terrorism, Trump said the US would “defeat the barbarians of Isis and we are going to defeat them now”. At the same time, Trump showed his willingness temper some of his most outrageous proposals on immigration that threaten his candidacy among undecided voters. He still promised a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as he did in June of 2015, and it remains a crowd pleaser among Republicans. But there was no mention of forcing the nation’s southern neighbor to pay for it, a claim that Republicans and Democrats have described as laughable.
Trump also attempted to reach out to gay voters, long a Democratic constituency, by promising to protect them “from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” But he didn’t address his opposition to same-sex marriage, which gay rights groups view a civil rights issue. His mention of protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual Americans from terrorism drew an applause from the crowd. “As a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said,” Trump said.
His most notable pivot came on an issue that hadn’t even surfaced when Trump first announced—his proposal to ban Muslim immigration. But he described the immigration ban in broad terms on Thursday, without mentioning any religious standard. Instead, he called for suspending “immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism” before going off script. “We don’t want them in our country.” The crowd roared with approval.
He used much more inclusive language on Thursday by talking about the collective “we,” and relied on far fewer references to himself as compared to his announcement speech. Striking notes of humility, Trump described himself as a mere figure-head, acknowledging the unlikeliness that the he’s now the spokesperson of a conservative party frustrated by defeats in four of the last six presidential contests.
When a protester disrupted his speech, Trump did not order security to “get ’em out” as he often does at rallies. When the crowd chanted “lock her up!” about Clinton, Trump parried rather than backing it up. “Let’s win in November,” he said.
“I am your voice,” Trump, reading from a teleprompter, told a thousands of Republican delegates and supporters. “To every parent who dreams for their child, and every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I’m with you, and I will fight for you and I will win for you.”
Trump attacked Clinton on her record as secretary of state, saying that she would continue a policy that would allow potential terrorists to enter the US. Referring to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East, he said the legacy of Mrs Clinton was “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness”. There were fewer personal attacks on opponents and more focus on issues, such as Clinton’s foreign policy record and the growing national debt under President Obama.
Compared to his announcement, Trump has clearly turned his attention away from Obama, who he mentioned five times by name compared to 11 times a year ago. He didn’t mention Clinton at all in New York. But on Thursday, in a sign that Trump is now in general election mode, he attacked her 11 times by name.
“Hillary Clinton’s message is that things will never change,” Trump said. “My message is that things have to change—and they have to change right now.”
Trump refused to apologise for his blunt message, saying that, “I will present the facts plainly and honestly”.
Compared to his announcement speech a year ago, Trump’s speech included fewer superlatives (no promise of being the “greatest jobs president that God ever created”), made no mention of his own businesses, and relied much less on the kind of antagonistic language that first launched his campaign on June 16, 2015. After descending the golden escalator of his own New York City skyscraper last year, Trump sounded alarms about Mexican rapists and Chinese domination, Bloomberg observed. But in the 57 astounding weeks between launching his candidacy and accepting his party’s presidential nomination, the former reality TV show host has painted a picture of an America on the verge of an apocalyptic ending.
On Thursday, there was none of the humor that attracted thousands to his rallies and neutralized rivals in 11 GOP debates. Instead, he spoke about “death, destruction and weakness” in America and the country suffering “international humiliation.”
But only he can pull the nation back from the brink, Trump said. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” the billionaire said.
Bloomberg summarized the shift in Trump’s speeches starting with his June 2015 announcement speech and culminating with last night’s acceptance speech.
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An instant poll of the overall reaction to Mr Trump’s speech conducted by CNN/ORC found that 57 per cent were “very positive” and 18 per cent were “somewhat positive”, while it had a “negative effect” on 24 per cent of those polled.
According to the FT, the speech was described by supporters in the convention hall described as an honest depiction of the state of America.
Others, however, disagreed violently.
Tony Fratto, a former top Republican official in the administration of George W Bush, said the speech was the “darkest, most negative acceptance speech of a major party” that he had heard in his lifetime. “Trump’s anti-immigration, antitrade rants are further dividing the party. He continues to double-down on a narrow, nativist, xenophobic segment of the electorate, at a time when he needed to try to expand his appeal,” said Mr Fratto. “The Republican Party today is an incoherent coalition with opposite views on key policy issues. It feels tonight like the GOP’s place as a national party is coming to an end.”
Bloomberg went even further: “Donald Trump completed his hostile takeover of the Republican Party on Thursday with one of the most ominous speeches of his campaign, showing his already dystopian view of America has darkened considerably since he first announced his campaign.”
As was to be expected, Hillary Clinton’s campaign immediately panned Donald Trump’s GOP nomination acceptance speech, arguing the country can do far better than “prejudice and paranoia.” During his speech, she tweeted: “we are better than this.”
“Tonight, Donald Trump painted a dark picture of an America in decline. And his answer – more fear, more division, more anger, more hate — was yet another reminder that he is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be President of the United States,” campaign chairman John Podesta said in a statement shortly after Trump wrapped his lengthy address.
“He offered no real solutions to help working families get ahead or to keep our country safe, just more prejudice and paranoia. America is better than this. America is better than Donald Trump. Next week in Philadelphia, Democrats will focus on issues, not anger. We’ll offer a positive vision for the future based on lifting America up, not tearing Americans down.”
Democrats across the board joined Hillary’s criticism and hammered Trump’s speech as too doom and gloom instead of hopeful. But Republicans generally applauded the speech and saw Trump as prescribing a solution to eight years of Democratic policies.
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So the real question emerges: is Trump merely fearmongering, as the Democrats accuse him of doing, or is he painting an accurate picture of US – and global – society, one which touches on the ugly cracks behind the glitzy veneer of the “recovery” propaganda.
The answer will be revealed on November 8.