The Republican party nominated Donald Trump for re-election on Monday, on the first day of a national convention meant to strike a contrast with Democrats and, in the president’s own words, deliver a “very uplifting and positive” message.
But any such message was upstaged by the president himself, in an unscheduled appearance in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Basking in chants of “Four more years! Four more years!”, Trump accused Democrats of trying to “steal” the election by expanding absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic. He went so far as to say it was impossible for him to lose a fair contest in November.
“The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Trump said, to the boisterous approval of the 336 delegates in the hall, who had traveled to the convention from the 50 states and US territories. “They’re trying to steal the election.”
With false and outrageous claims, Trump has attacked the integrity of US elections since before he won the presidency in 2016, and he has stepped up those attacks in the run-up to a contest in which most polls have him trailing badly. Critics warn that even if Trump is beaten, his use of the White House to elevate conspiracy theories and lies could do lasting damage to US democracy.
But the cheering Republicans who convened in Charlotte evinced only enthusiasm about the trajectory of the country – and their party – under Trump.
“Our party is unified, our supporters are energized, and now we will go forward confident in our case of re-electing President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence in 70 days from now,” Ronna McDaniel, party chair, told the crowd.
Trump planned to officially accept the nomination at the White House on Thursday, a week after his rival, Joe Biden, accepted the Democratic nomination in a widely praised speech from his home state of Delaware.
The Republican convention made for a striking contrast with the almost totally online Democratic event.
While Democrats nominated Biden with a video taking viewers from the sands of California to the calamari of Rhode Island, the Republican nomination proceeded in the traditional manner, delegates rising to say something special about their states and cast votes for Trump.
“No president has done more for Americans in his first four years,” said Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina party. “Promise made, promise kept.”
After months of worsening news on the coronavirus front and discouraging polling data, Republicans are looking for an electrifying week, culminating with fireworks on the National Mall. To that end, some big names were to speak on the convention’s first night, including Donald Trump Jr and the former UN ambassador Nikki Haley.
But the schedule was slight compared with previous years – owing in part to the decision not to follow the Democrats online – and some prominent names, including Governors Greg Abbott of Texas, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Ron DeSantis of Florida, were missing.
Instead, speaking spots were padded with figures from the culture wars. These included Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a St Louis, Missouri couple who won infamy for brandishing guns at anti-racism protesters in June, and Nicholas Sandmann, a teen who successfully sued media organizations after an interaction with a Native American activist.
“Men and women of the Republican national convention,” said Pence, in a surprise appearance that was prelude to Trump’s. “It’s on.”
“We’re going to make America great again … again.”
It was left to the president to make the case the election was rigged. Voting by mail, which Trump uses himself, is universal practice in many states and the administration last week failed in court to offer evidence it is conducive to fraud.
Yet Trump said Democrats were “stealing millions of votes” by supporting vote-by-mail. “This is the greatest scam in the history of politics I think, and I’m talking about beyond our nation,” Trump said.
Democrats tried to highlight what they are calling Trump’s “chaos presidency”, focusing on the impact the coronavirus is having on families, highlighting Trump’s false claim children are “almost immune” and his insistence schools should reopen.
“While nearly half of the speakers you will hear from are members of the Trump family, you aren’t going to hear much about the plight of American families,” Kate Bedingfield, a deputy Biden campaign manager, told reporters.
She said Trump’s efforts to cast himself as the last line of defense against radicalism and lawlessness are contradicted by a reality of his own making – and the public’s familiarity with Biden’s time as vice-president.
“He likes to make this argument about what life will look like in Joe Biden’s America while quite literally using footage from Donald Trump’s America,” Bedingfield said. “People have seen Joe Biden in the White House. He never resorted to the kinds of tactics that Donald Trump is using, like sending federal law enforcement into cities to inflame tensions.”
The physical layout of the Republicans’ Charlotte event reflected months of negotiations with state health officials, who insisted on coronavirus mitigation measures. Delegates were arranged in rows of spaced tables facing an understated stage with flags against a blue curtain.
But not every picture broadcast concern about the pandemic. Although attendees were required to undergo testing and masks were required, many delegates wore theirs on one ear or under their chins – or wore no mask at all.
Per poolers in the room, not everyone is wearing masks. Each attendee was told to acquire a negative COVID test before coming to Charlotte & each received a test from community health partners upon arrival in Charlotte. There are about 336 delegates gathered + 60 RNC staffers. pic.twitter.com/trUOd4OiTi
— Monica Alba (@albamonica) August 24, 2020
Proceedings were live-streamed online, with a portion of the evening scheduled to be broadcast by major networks.
“I know I am not alone when I say that the Democratic convention of last week was hard to watch,” McDaniel said. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are running on the most radical socialist extreme and far-left ticket in American history.”
McDaniel ran down what she said were Trump’s accomplishments. He has built hundreds of miles of border wall, she said; appointed conservative judges including two supreme court justices; fought for energy independence; killed terrorist leaders; and scored a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Originally published: 2020-08-24 14:41:44