Trump uses White House as backdrop to make vague promises and jab Joe Biden in acceptance speech

Mr Trump ‘doesn’t understand the presidency’ because he views the office as ‘all about him’, Kamala Harris says before main nomination event kicks off

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Wednesday 02 September 2020 15:09 BST
Donald Trump thanks Ivanka and 'all of my children' at RNC
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Donald Trump took several hard shots at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, accusing him of “destroying” jobs and placating America’s enemies, as he accepted the Republican Party’s nomination to seek a second term.

The president, in a surreal scene in modern times, addressed a large crowd on the White House’s South Lawn, ticked off a list of policies supported or pushed by Mr Biden during his nearly five decades in Washington and described them as part of “the left’s backward view”. US presidents typically restrain from using the White House for purely political purposes, respecting a belief that the executive mansion should be spared a perceived indignity of political attack lines and posturing.

But Mr Trump went hard against his general election foe on the South Lawn – all while distorting Mr Biden’s record. Slowly making up ground to the former vice president in several key battleground states, the president offered little about what he would do with four more years. Mr Trump spoke for over an hour before yielding the stage to a massive fireworks display near the Washington Monument, besting his general election opponent’s acceptance speech by around 45 minutes.

“At the Democrat National Convention, Joe Biden and his party repeatedly assailed America as a land of racial, economic, and social injustice,” Mr Trump said. So tonight, I ask you a very simple question: how can the Democrat Party ask to lead our country when it spends so much time tearing down our country?”

“In the left’s backward view, they do not see America as the most free, just, and exceptional nation on earth. Instead, they see a wicked nation that must be punished for its sins,” Mr Trump said, standing in front of a number of American flags lined along the executive mansion’s South Portico. “Our opponents say that redemption for you can only come from giving power to them. This is a tired anthem spoken by every repressive movement throughout history ... Joe Biden is weak. He takes his marching orders from liberal hypocrites who drive their cities into the ground while fleeing far from the scene of the wreckage.”

Mr Trump criticised Mr Biden’s pledge to, if elected, again shut down the US economy if that’s what he deemed necessary to get a handle on the still-spreading coronavirus.

“Instead of following the science, Joe Biden wants to inflict a painful shutdown on the entire country. His shutdown would inflict unthinkable and lasting harm on our nation’s children, families, and citizens of all backgrounds,” the president said. “The cost of the ‘Biden shutdown’ would be measured in increased drug overdoses, depression, alcohol addiction, suicides, heart attacks, economic devastation and more. Joe Biden’s plan is not a solution to the virus, but rather a surrender.”

The president vowed to “crush the virus” minutes after sharply attacking Mr Biden’s record on jobs and economic issues.

“Joe Biden is not the saviour of America’s soul – he is the destroyer of America’s jobs, and if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness,” he said, before alluding to Mr Biden’s chequered history of inappropriately touching women. “For 47 years, Joe Biden took the donations of blue collar workers, gave them hugs and even kisses, and told them he felt their pain – and then he flew back to Washington and voted to ship their jobs to China and many other distant lands. Joe Biden spent his entire career outsourcing the dreams of American Workers, offshoring their jobs, opening their borders, and sending their sons and daughters to fight in endless foreign wars.”

As the South Lawn crowd giggled in unison, the president stood behind his blue lectern with the seal of the Office of the President and smirked.

The president was speaking on the final night of the GOP convention, accepting the nomination of a party he has taken over in just five years. His oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, a White House aide, introduced him and reminded voters he is a “builder” and assured them he is fighting for his supporters amid Democratic criticisms that he has not tried to expand his base.

She said her father’s actions and perceived accomplishments in office “speak for themselves”, and described him as a “champion of the American worker, defender of common sense and our voice for the forgotten men and women of this country”. Minutes after part of the crowd chanted “four more years”, Ms Trump declared, “We’re just getting started. Dad, people attack you for being unconventional. But I love you for being real and I respect you for being effective.”

She painted her father as a beacon of straight talk, but Mr Trump later distorted Mr Biden’s policy proposals, again calling him a “Trojan horse for socialism” and making false statements about Democrats’ collective stance on late-term abortions. He also distorted Mr Biden’s proposals on police funding cuts – the Democrat says he actually wants to increase police funding – and other policy matters.

More of the same

The president’s message about his potential second-term agenda, like in a New York Times interview oddly released half an hour before the night’s events began, was simple if less-than-inspiring: more of the same.

“But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done,” he told the newspaper he regularly calls an “enemy of the people” that produces “fake news”.

His term has been dominated by chaos, policy swerves, Cabinet and staff firings, presidential-made controversies and mistakes – and little effort by Mr Trump to expand his base of support beyond conservatives. Critics have charged the president with fanning the flames of racial tensions and ignoring the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic – both as it initially spread and again as he pressed governors to open their states, setting off a second spike in cases and deaths.

Speaking to 1,500 viewers on the South Lawn despite the still-spreading and highly contagious disease, Mr Trump contended the country and its economy were in good health. But as he walked on to a stage for an unprecedented acceptance speech capping an unprecedented GOP convention, at least 180,500 people had died on US soil due to the virus.

The president echoed many other Republican speakers by describing a country that is moving beyond the pandemic, and by predicting the economy will merely snap back to its pre-Covid status once the virus has been eradicated, likely by a vaccine.

The convention also came amid ongoing protests in major US cities after the deaths of black people during interactions with white police officers. Before the president spoke, the convention heard from Ann Dorn, whose police officer husband was killed in the line of duty.

“My hope is that having you relive it with me now will help shake this country from the nightmare we are witnessing in our cities and bring about positive, peaceful change,” she said. “How did we get to this point where so many young people are so callous and indifferent towards human life? This isn’t a video game where you can commit mayhem and then hit ‘reset’ and bring all the characters back to life.”

And former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani warned Democrats’ approach to crime “is to do nothing”, calling Mr Biden “a defective candidate”. Concluding his remarks, Mr Giuliani ignored the fact his longtime friend has already been chief executive for nearly four years, saying: “Mr President, make our nation safe again.”

‘All about him’

The GOP convention speech was aimed at casting November’s election as a choice between a kind of no-nonsense conservatism that pursues “law and order”, better trade deals and lower taxes, and a “far-left” and “radical” progressive ideology of Mr Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris. He described their ideology as a brand of “socialism” he contends would end the United States as anyone knows it.

Mr Trump also spoke as positive polling numbers were revealed for himself and Vice President Mike Pence. Multiple polls out this week showed the race tightening in key swing states, with the Trump-Pence ticket gaining steam in every battleground except Michigan (where Biden-Harris leads by six points) and North Carolina (where the race has long been a dead heat).

In private conversations, Mr Trump’s aides have for months claimed their polling data contradicts most polls conducted in part by media organisations. They claim their data shows the president much closer or leading in the seven or eight battleground states that will decide the race. Still, in bad news for Mr Trump, the race is neck-and-neck in Ohio and Texas, where Republicans have dominated for several presidential cycles.

Before Mr Trump took the stage on a muggy night in Washington, Ms Harris gave a blistering assessment of Mr Trump’s coronavirus response. She called him “scared” and claimed he “froze” when he needed to lead the country and make tough decisions.

“Here’s what you have to understand about the nature of a pandemic: it’s relentless,” she said. “You can’t stop it with a tweet. You can’t create a distraction and hope it’ll go away. It doesn’t go away,” she added, contending Mr Trump “doesn’t understand the presidency” because he views the office as “all about him”.

She also dismissed the messages delivered during the four-night convention.

“The Republican convention is designed for one purpose: to soothe Donald Trump’s ego, to make him feel good,” Ms Harris said. “But here’s the thing: he’s the president of the United States, and it’s not supposed to be about him. It’s supposed to be about the health and the safety and the wellbeing of the American people.”

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