President Donald Trump
delivered a Republican Convention acceptance speech that was a 70-minute marathon of attack lines against Democrats, superlative trumpeting of his own accomplishments and dire warnings that “no one will be safe in Joe Biden
More notable than the address itself was where it was delivered: on the South Lawn of the White House.
Most relevant to the moment Thursday night in primetime was what Trump said about the twin crises facing the country. He claimed credit for an effective response to the coronavirus
crisis and as the law-and-order candidate who could tame racial unrest.
The 1,500 supporters gathered on the lawn were not socially distanced nor were many wearing masks, reflecting the way that Trump has downplayed protective guidelines in a pandemic that has claimed more than 180,000 lives. And just outside the White House gates were racial justice protesters, their chants heard by reporters covering the president’s remarks.
Trump recited many of his first-term accomplishments, while replaying of some of his common campaign lines, as the long slog of the speech took on the feel of the best of Hannity over the past six months. As the president talked, as he is apt to do, in the extremes, CNN interrupted with a real-time fact check on its chyron.
Trump echoed a common theme of the week — that Biden will be an empty vessel or a “Trojan horse” for the radical left, bent on the destruction of the American way of life.
“How can the Democrat [sic] party lead our country when they spend so much time tearing down our country?” Trump said. “In the Left’s backward view, they do not see America as the most free, just and exceptional nation on Earth. They see a wicked nation that must be punished for its sins.”
He mentioned the unrest in Kenosha, WI, but did not mention Jacob Blake, the man who was shot by police seven times in the back, sparking nights of protests in the city.
Trump repeatedly blamed the unrest on “Democrat-run” cities, and blasted Biden for not condemning the violence during the Democratic National Convention last week. He did not mention that Biden did just that in a video on Wednesday and in appearances on MSNBC and CNN on Thursday.
Biden did weigh in during the speech, tweeting at one point, “Remember: every example of violence Donald Trump decries has happened on his watch. Under his leadership. During his presidency.”
Trump also blasted Biden for being on the “wrong side of history,” citing his support for NAFTA, the vote authorizing the Iraq war and backing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He tried to make the case that the stories of Biden’s empathy and character are countered by a voting record that is “a shameful roll call of the most catastrophic betrayals and blunders in our lifetime.”
“We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years,” Trump said. “At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies or two agendas.”
The use of the White House for a political event was not unprecedented. Eighty years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his acceptance speech from the Oval Office in 1940.
But the way that Trump used it for the convention finale was something else altogether, with a giant makeshift stage extending from the Truman Balcony into the lawn, the Trump-Pence campaign logo on display on giant TV screens, and supporters packed on the lawn on white folding chairs.
Media commentators found it surreal. ABC News chief political analyst Matthew Dowd, a veteran of George W. Bush’s administration, said, “I never thought I would see what I am seeing tonight on the South Lawn. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we did had done that in 2004 or if Barack Obama had done that in 2012 when he was reelected. People’s hair would be on fire.”
On NBC News, Chuck Todd said, “As somebody who has reverence for all of the Washington, D.C. monuments that we have, this is jarring to see the White House star in a political advertisement like this.”
Trump spoke in the 10 p.m. ET hour, something likely to overshadow the lineup of speakers from earlier in the evening.
Some offered heart-wrenching stories as victims of horrendous crimes and terrorism, along with Alice Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate who was granted a pardon by the president, and the parents of a woman who was murdered by ISIS.
Those voices were interspersed with more familiar attack dogs like Rudy Giuliani, who offered a boilerplate take-down of the Democratic nominee, something he did in 2016 and way back in 2008 for John McCain.
Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, vouched for Trump as a man who is not a racist. He also brushed off Trump’s bombast as harmless, even though the president’s tweets have fanned divisions and spread conspiracy theories. “He does not submit to political correctness or to its enforcers, the media. He is real. Right now we need real. We need courage,” Carson said.
Ivanka Trump also tried to dismiss her father’s rhetoric as harmless, saying that “I recognize that my Dad’s communication style is not to everyone’s taste and I know that his tweets can feel a bit filtered. But the results speak for themselves.”
Some were offended by the remark. “It’s not a ‘communication style,’ its cruelty and indecency,” Meghan McCain wrote.
“Trump said he didn’t like POW’s who were captured, implied my father was burning in hell after he died and constantly trashed him while he was fighting brain cancer. This is how they have lost all decent people.”
Some of Trump’s words on Thursday also provoked, but in the immediate aftermath, some of the punditry was in just how unwieldy is all was.
At points the president recited attack lines as if they were bullet points on the page, and returned to the same territory that had been covered earlier.
At one moment, in criticizing cancel culture, Trump said that “Americans are exhausted.” There were points where he, too, looked a bit low energy as he read off the Teleprompter.
On Fox News, Chris Wallace called Trump’s delivery “surprisingly flat.”
“Well, there certainly were impressive fireworks on the Mall,” Wallace said, “but I have to say I was surprised at the lack of fireworks in the president’s speech tonight.”
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