Republicans predicted a national “horror movie” should U.S. President Donald Trump lose the election in November, offering dark warnings for the president’s die-hard base on the opening night of his scaled down national convention on Monday even as others tried to broaden Trump’s political appeal.
Trump’s campaign had promised to offer an inclusive and uplifting prime-time message, hoping to broaden his appeal beyond his hard-core base by featuring the next generation of party stars including two Republicans of colour, Rep. Tim Scott and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Yet any efforts to strike an optimistic tone were overshadowed by dire talk that Democrat Joe Biden would destroy America, allowing communities to be overrun by violence.
A school teacher warned that conservative values were under attack from labour unions. A small business owner charged that businesses across the country were facing unwarranted pandemic shutdowns and riotous mobs. And Rep. Matt Gaetz likened the prospect of Biden’s election to a horror movie.
“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz declared.
Later in the night, Haley did offer a softer tone as she highlighted her experience growing up as the daughter of Indian immigrants in the South.
WATCH | Nikki Haley says the U.S. is not a racist country:
“I was a brown girl in a black and white world,” she said. She recounted how states like her native South Carolina have rebounded from racist violence, saying, “America is not a racist country.”
She also gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, saying “of course we know that every single Black life is valuable.”
And Scott, the Republican Party’s only Black senator, levelled the kind of personal attack against Biden that Trump and his white allies could not.
“Joe Biden said if a Black man didn’t vote for him, he wasn’t truly Black. Joe Biden said Black people are a monolithic community,” Scott charged.
He acknowledged that African Americans have sometimes been victimized by police brutality but later said: “The truth is, our nation’s arc always bends back toward fairness. We are not fully where we want to be … but thank God we are not where we used to be.”
Trump is painting the Democrats as complicit with rioting and violence that has taken place in some cities in recent months amid protests over racial injustice, the vast majority of which have been peaceful.
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.
WATCH | The McCloskeys defend their actions against protesters:
Patricia McCloskey told Republicans the Democrats “want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning” and that they “would bring crime, lawlessness and low-quality apartments into thriving suburban neighbourhoods.”
She added, “Your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”
Another speaker, the father of a teenaged girl killed in a school shooting, said he believes the “safety of your kids depends” on whether Trump wins a second term.
Andrew Pollack’s 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, was killed in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. He said during the convention that he credits Trump for forming a school safety commission that issued dozens of recommendations designed to make schools safer.
Talk of rigged elections
Trump and a parade of fellow Republicans distorted Trump rival Biden’s agenda through the evening, falsely accusing the Democrat of proposing to defund police, ban oil fracking, take over health care, open borders and raise taxes on most Americans.
They tried to assign positions of the Democratic left to a middle-of-the-road candidate who explicitly rejected many of the party’s most liberal positions through the primaries. Trump set the tone earlier in the day with unsupported claims about voting fraud and falsehoods about his own record in office as he 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, N.C., before moving to Washington for prime-time programming.
WATCH | Trump says the Democrats are trying to rig the election:
The Republican convention marks a crucial moment for Trump, a first-term Republican president tasked with reshaping a campaign he is losing by all accounts, at least for now.
Donald Trump Jr. ridiculed Biden, calling him names, while painting him as part of a movement aimed at stripping the nation of its most basic freedoms.
“In the past, both parties believed in the goodness of America,” the younger Trump said. “This time, the other party is attacking the very principles on which our nation was founded,” citing freedom of thought, speech, religion and the rule of law.
Mocking Biden’s past meetings with Chinese leaders as vice-president, he called the Democrat “Beijing Biden” and poked at his decades in the Senate and previously unsuccessful presidential bids by calling him “The Loch Ness Monster of the swamp.”
WATCH | Donald Trump Jr. says Biden will take away Americans’ freedoms:
The younger Trump also offered a full-throated support of his father’s campaign theme that protests for racial justice are lawless, violent mobs intent on toppling long-honoured past leaders.
He said, “It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work and school versus rioting, looting and vandalism.”
Earlier in the evening, the head of the pro-Trump student organization Turning Point USA called the president “the bodyguard of Western civilization.”
Charlie Kirk said during his speech that Trump had reclaimed the U.S. government “from the rotten cartel of insiders that have been destroying our country.”
The Republican convention comes as more than 177,000 Americans have been killed by the pandemic and millions more have been infected. Coronavirus-related job losses also reach into the millions
Trump and his supporters on Monday night touted his response to the pandemic while standing alongside front-line workers in the White House, although he glossed over the mounting death toll, the most in the world, and his administration’s struggle to control the disease.
Those cheering Trump’s leadership on the pandemic included a coronavirus patient, a small business owner from Montana and a nurse practitioner from Virginia.
“As a health-care professional, I can tell you without hesitation, Donald Trump’s quick action and leadership saved thousands of lives during COVID-19,” said Amy Ford, a registered nurse who was deployed to New York and Texas to fight the coronavirus.
Black Democrat voting Republican
A Black Democrat lawmaker in Georgia’s state legislature said he’s supporting Trump because he’s made improvements benefiting the Black community.
Rep. Vernon Jones said “all hell broke loose” when he announced his support for Trump. But Jones said he stands by his decision in part because Trump has backed initiatives including increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities, criminal justice reform and “the most inclusive economy ever.”
WATCH | Jones explains why he’s voting for Trump:
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.
Even though Trump has sought to minimize the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, 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.
In a video that aired Monday night, Trump moderated a panel of front-line workers who spoke about their experiences with COVID-19. No one in the group, assembled closely around Trump, wore a mask.
WATCH | Trump’s conversation with frontline workers:
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 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.
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.