The evening’s remarks, coupled with the president’s rambling and conspiratorial address earlier Monday to delegates convened in North Carolina, stood as a stark reminder of Trump’s domination of the party and its message — and largely overshadowed the GOP’s official and cheerier theme for the day, “Land of Promise.”
Speaker after speaker painted the Democrats’ vision for the country in apocalyptic terms while arguing that a victory by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would threaten Americans’ physical and financial safety.
“They want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe, so they can control how you live,” said an animated Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top Trump campaign official and the girlfriend of the president’s oldest son. “They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal, victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.”
The dire warnings were occasionally interspersed with promises that under Trump, the economy could recover and forces of change facing the country could be held at bay.
“There are millions of families like mine across this nation . . . full of potential, seeking to live the American Dream,” said Tim Scott (S.C.), the lone Black Republican in the Senate and the night’s closing speaker. “And I’m here tonight to tell you that supporting the Republican ticket gives you the best chance of making that dream a reality.”
Trump has come under withering criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has been the major cause of his plummeting poll numbers in his contest with Biden. In response, the first night of the convention prominently featured defenses of Trump’s response to the outbreak, with the president appearing in a video shortly after 9 p.m. to talk with a group about his efforts.
Earlier in the evening, a video montage touted Trump’s actions to mitigate the pandemic and played selectively edited clips of some Democratic leaders expressing appreciation for him, even though those officials have also been highly critical of Trump.
The rhetoric started long before the prime-time speaking lineup, with Trump appearing at the convention hall in Charlotte where he made baseless statements about election fraud.
“They’re trying to steal the election from Republicans,” the president said of Democrats, without evidence, minutes after formally securing the party’s nomination. “Just like they did it last time, with spying.”
Other speakers at the convention — including young conservative organizer Charlie Kirk, and the St. Louis couple who emerged from their mansion and aimed weapons at racial-justice protesters — amplified the president’s assertions that America would become a hellscape if Biden won.
“I am here tonight to tell you — to warn you — that this election is a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love,” said Kirk, 26, calling Trump the “bodyguard of Western civilization” battling “vengeful activists.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress, said Democrats want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door. And the defunded police aren’t on their way.”
The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. criticized Biden as a veteran of Washington who had his chance to solve the challenges facing the country and failed.
“Joe Biden is basically the Loch Ness monster of the Swamp,” Trump Jr. said. “For the past half-century, he’s been lurking around in there. He sticks his head up every now and then to run for president, then he disappears and doesn’t do much in between.”
Speakers appeared by video or from the party’s rented space inside Washington’s Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, with American flags decorating the stage alongside looming columns.
Stoking racial and cultural animus has been central to Trump’s public identity for decades, and it has only become more pronounced as he has fallen behind Biden in the polls and as the country has embarked on a national debate over systemic racism after the shootings of Black Americans by White police officers, with the latest incident unfolding in Kenosha, Wis., over the weekend.
Scott’s turn Monday was part of a broader attempt by Republicans to counter Democrats’ charge that the GOP under Trump has become a bastion for White grievance, resentment and racism.
Kimberly Klacik, whose viral campaign ad last week showed her walking the streets of Baltimore while suggesting that Democrats do not care about Black voters, also spoke Monday. Klacik, who is Black, is the Republican running for the late congressman Elijah E. Cummings’s seat against Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), the former NAACP chief who handily defeated her in a special election in April and now faces a rematch in November.
Vernon Jones, a Black Democratic state lawmaker from Georgia who announced in April that he would endorse Trump, also spoke, as did retired football star Herschel Walker.
“It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald,” Walker said. “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.”
Still, those overtures to Black Americans were featured alongside an appearance by lawyers Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who have said they drew their guns to defend their home on a private street in an upscale St. Louis neighborhood from a crowd of racial-justice protesters who were marching to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house.
Video and photos showing Mark McCloskey wielding a rifle and Patricia McCloskey aiming a pistol at the marchers created a firestorm of controversy. Some thought the couple were legally defending their home — instantly making them popular figures on the right — while others saw them as unnecessarily taking up arms against peaceful protesters.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, St. Louis’s first Black chief prosecutor, filed charges against both McCloskeys last month, each with one felony count of unlawful use of a weapon.
The couple ominously warned of dangers facing American communities and criticized Biden for pushing anti-segregation policies that they said would hurt the suburbs. “These are the policies that are coming to a neighborhood near you. So make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America,” Patricia McCloskey said.
Republicans in Charlotte earlier Monday joined that chorus.
“We have crime ravaging our streets,” New York Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy said as the state delivered its 94 delegates. “That is what America will see if a Biden-Harris regime runs our country.”
Flickers of traditional Republican pitches, most notably from Scott, at times cut through the charged hostility toward Democrats. Scott’s approach to Trump is similar to the tack taken by other lawmakers: applaud the president and the GOP’s legislative gains and executive actions, but do not celebrate the man.
The senator commended Trump for taking steps to help Black Americans and “clean up Joe Biden’s mess,” and cautioned that Democrats are seeking a “cultural revolution.”
Scott, who has worked with Trump on criminal justice changes and tax breaks for investments in poorer neighborhoods, is considered by GOP donors and activists to be a potential future presidential contender, as is Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who also spoke Monday, promoting Trump’s foreign policy decisions, which often run against traditional GOP policies.
To respond to Democrats’ portrayal of Trump as a person of low character who harms the nation to suit his own needs, the convention featured several speakers highlighting their view of him as a generous man.
“I got to see who [President Trump] really is,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed in the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting in 2018 and who has advocated for school safety measures while defending gun rights. “He’s a good man and a great listener. And he cuts through the BS.”
Democrats welcomed the arrival of the Republican National Convention with a new television ad accusing Trump of “job-destroying incompetence and deadly mismanagement” of the pandemic.
“Welcome to the RNC, Republican National Chaos,” the narrator says in the 30-second spot, which opens with a scene of downtown Charlotte. “Because Trump is meeting the covid moment with job-destroying incompetence and deadly mismanagement, students and teachers are left to themselves, the jobless left without a lifeline, grandparents left to die alone, an economy left to perish.”
Many of the party’s remaining establishment figures stayed away. The only living former Republican president, George W. Bush, will not speak this week — a break from tradition. All three past Democratic presidents offered remarks at that party’s convention last week.
Some vulnerable GOP senators are avoiding the Trump-dominated convention as well.
“It’s a concession to reality when an incumbent president doesn’t have a strong reelect number,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye, who used to work at the Republican National Committee. “You don’t have a lot of people in tough races flocking to be seen with him.”
The night featured stalwart congressional defenders of Trump, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) as well as Sean Parnell, a GOP congressional candidate in Pennsylvania.
But it was Trump who hovered over the event Monday, beginning with his last-minute appearance at the roll call.
The roll call, which typically occurs on the Tuesday of a four-day convention week, had been moved up to keep some party business in Charlotte, chosen as the site of the convention before the pandemic, ahead of prime-time programming anchored in Washington.
Greeted by cheers of “four more years,” Trump joked that he might deserve additional terms in office because of the investigations of his 2016 campaign. “If you want to really drive them crazy, you say 12 more years,” he said, instantly prompting some chants of “12 more years.”
The president received 2,050 delegates, a unanimous vote after primaries that set turnout records for an incumbent with no serious challenger. Three opponents had filed for the primaries, but only former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld stayed in the race past Super Tuesday, and the single delegate he won was reassigned to Trump.
Delegates who had largely stayed at their tables during Vice President Pence’s remarks crowded toward the front of the room to hear the president, who spoke briefly about the administration’s response to the pandemic before talking about TV coverage of the convention, the restrictions that prevented an in-person event in North Carolina, energy pipelines, international trade deals, judicial appointments and his false refrain that the election would be “rigged” by the expansion of mail voting.
Trump spoke for more than 50 minutes, and some delegates moved back to their seats as he circled around familiar themes.
“They want no guns. They want no oil and gas. And they want no God,” Trump said of Democrats.
While the Trump campaign released 50 priorities for a second term Sunday night, the president referred to only a few of them. He pledged to “create 10 million jobs in the first 10 months,” and he said an executive order that would drive down prescription drug prices by using trade powers would go into effect soon.
Weigel reported from Charlotte. Meagan Flynn, Amber Phillips and Michael Scherer contributed to this report.