Donald Trump cast himself as the answer to escalating violence and the threat of terrorism, declaring Thursday that he was the voice of the “forgotten men and women of our country” as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination to cap a tumultuous primary campaign.
The New York businessman’s speech of roughly 75 minutes took on darker overtones with a mix of tough-talking rhetoric and an embrace of nationalism. His remarks seemed squarely aimed at winning over skeptical Republicans and jilted Bernie Sanders backers, and damaging Democrat Hillary Clinton, who will accept her party’s nomination next week.
“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice,” Trump said, to roaring applause. “I am your voice.”
He painted Clinton as a corrupt puppet of the political elite eager to maintain the status quo in America. He implied she was personally responsible for many recent “humiliations” in the world, including the 2012 attack of the U.S. Consulate in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt and the Iran nuclear agreement.
“This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” he said, reading from a teleprompter. “But Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy.”
Offering lofty promises but few specifics, he said he would slash taxes, boost infrastructure spending and rescue children struggling in failing schools. His most sweeping vow — a blanket promise to bring security and safety to the nation — came amid a cascade of applause.
“I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” he said. “Beginning on January 20th of 2017, safety will be restored.”
He vowed to put American citizens first in terms of jobs, trade and immigration, speaking directly to Rust Belt voters who could help him win swing states by promising to bring back jobs to economically stricken states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone,” he said, “but my greatest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens.”
His speech ended a turbulent four-day convention that laid bare long-simmering divisions within the party. The millions who tuned into the convention watched extraordinary moments of disarray erupt on live TV, including Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s prime-time refusal to endorse Trump — and the deafening boos that chased him off stage.
There was also a last stand of anti-Trump forces who tried to deny the businessman the nomination, accusations that Trump’s wife, Melania, cribbed portions of her well-regarded speech from first lady Michelle Obama and the notable absences of many leading Republicans.
Overall, it was the very GOP establishment Trump bucked during his primary run that helped him smooth over this week’s road bumps.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who had once himself been wary of Trump, declared Thursday that the New York businessman was the tonic to the nation’s most pressing challenges.
“Donald Trump wants to make sure you can pay the mortgage, put gas in the car, and buy new clothes for the first day of school,” he said. “Donald Trump is committed to hitting terrorists hard and making the safety of every man, woman, and child in America his No. 1 priority.”
Outside Quicken Loans Arena, the vast and violent protests expected to rock the conventions never materialized. The demonstrations on Thursday were largely peaceful, although a Georgia State Patrol officer volunteering in Cleveland was treated at a local hospital Thursday after a demonstrator threw an unknown liquid on him.
Trump was introduced on stage by his eldest daughter, Ivanka, an executive in his real estate company who has become one of his closest campaign advisers.
Ivanka Trump characterized her father as an unflappable yet fair and empathetic leader. She described a man who would rip out stories from the newspaper about people facing injustices, invite those people to Trump Tower and find a way to give them jobs, someone who lifted up women and fought to change labor and child care policies.
“My father values talent,” she said. “He recognizes real knowledge and skill when he finds it. He is color blind and gender neutral.”
Earlier in the evening, former University of Georgia and pro football quarterback Fran Tarkenton said of his longtime friend: “He understands that teams win, individuals don’t. He builds great teams.”
Trump, too, called himself as a team player whose leadership would help the everyman.
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves,” Trump said. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
The crowd relished in the New Yorker’s address, cheering at every applause line and chanting “Trump” during pauses. When a protester tried to interrupt his address, the crowd chanted “USA! USA!” and then roared when Trump praised Cleveland police. Many waved signs displaying phrases such as “Make America One Again.”
Trump’s nominating speech was a coda to a hectic week that seemed to dart from one political altercation to another. It conveyed just how divided the Republican Party is after a divisive and drawn-out primary battle. At many moments the only common denominator appeared to be a mutual disgust of Clinton.
The slate of convention speakers Trump billed as among the most exciting in a generation were lopsided. Some, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and son Donald Trump Jr., electrified the room and brought a greater sense of understanding to a candidate that before last year few knew beyond his reality TV persona.
But others were awkward or ill-fitted for the task, including a casino baron who oozed Las Vegas gaudiness, a business owner who discussed wanting to join the circus as a child and a cadre of C-list celebrities.
The nation’s attention will now shift squarely to Clinton, who is set to soon unveil her running mate and then head to the Democrats’ own four-day party in Philadelphia.
Even as Republicans prepared to hear Trump’s prime-time remarks, the Clinton campaign rolled out a new Web page Thursday, allowing users to post Trump insults on their profiles. The so-called “Trump Yourself” initiative drove so much traffic, a member of Clinton’s campaign team said, that it crashed the candidate’s website.
As his speech neared a crescendo, Trump said he was ready to take Clinton on.
“My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three-word loyalty pledge. It reads: ‘I’m with her,’” he said. “I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads: ‘I’m with you - the American people.’”
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