CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans opened their national convention on Monday (Aug 24) by outlining a dire portrait of America if Democrat Joe Biden wins the White House in November,arguing he will usher in an era of radical socialism.
Trump set the tone early in the day when he addressed Republican delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina, after formally securing the party’s nomination for another term, and claimed without evidence that Democrats were trying to steal the election.
Republicans had vowed to offer an inspiring, positive message in contrast to what they characterised as a dark and gloomy Democratic convention last week.
But the first night’s prime-time programme featured speakers who peppered their remarks with ominous predictions if Democrats win power.
"They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door," US representative Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s staunchest backers in Congress, said, referring to an international criminal gang
The four-day convention got under way at a critical juncture for Trump, who trails Biden in national opinion polls during a pandemic that has killed more than 176,000 Americans, erased millions of jobs and eroded the president’s standing among voters.
Trump has focused on a "law and order" message in response to widespread protests following the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, and he has pushed schools and businesses to reopen despite the pandemic.
Both messages represent the campaign’s effort to win back suburban voters, especially women, who have abandoned the Republican Party in droves during the Trump era.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, portrayed the ongoing civil unrest as violent assaults on small businesses by anarchists and said Democrats would fail to keep neighbourhoods safe.
The convention’s opening night also laid out what promises to be a central theme of the week: that Biden, a former vice-president, and his running mate, US Senator Kamala Harris, will merely be puppets of radical left-wing activists.
Multiple speakers accused Biden of wanting to defund the police and ban fracking, though he has rejected both positions.
Another frenetic day for Trump threatened to overshadow his attempt to recalibrate the campaign, however.
In Washington, congressional Democrats grilled US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, over whether service cuts under his watch aimed to curtail efforts to vote by mail.
One of Trump’s closest advisers, Kellyanne Conway, said she would leave the White House to focus on her family.
Then the New York attorney-general disclosed in court papers she is investigating whether Trump and his family business committed fraud; both the president and the Trump Organisation have denied wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s governor deployed the National Guard following a night of unrest in Kenosha, where police on Sunday shot a Black man multiple times in the back.
TRUMP ON THE ATTACK
Earlier in the day, the president repeated his assertion that voting by mail, a long-standing feature of American elections that is expected to be far more common during the coronavirus pandemic, will lead to widespread fraud.
Independent election security experts say voter fraud is extraordinarily rare in the United States.
"The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election," Trump said. "We’re going to win this election."
As he has done repeatedly, Trump described states’ responses to infections of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, in starkly partisan terms, casting lockdowns and other steps recommended by public health officials as attempts to influence voting in November.
“What they’re doing is using Covid to steal an election,”Trump said. “They’re using Covid to defraud the American people - all of our people – of a fair and free election.”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1297965457404723202
During the prime-time programme, the party aired a video praising Trump for his handling of the pandemic, after Democrats spent much of their convention attacking his administration for an uneven response.
Medical professionals and small-business owners credited Trump with saving lives and livelihoods.
But during a prerecorded appearance at the White House, where Trump spoke with several essential workers including some frontline health workers, none of the participants wore masks, which has become a partisan flashpoint despite recommendations from epidemiologists that masks can slow the disease’s spread.
The night showcased some of the party’s diverse members to try to appeal beyond Trump’s largely white base, including Senator Tim Scott, the lone Black Republican in the Senate, and Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who is Indian American.
"In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist," said Haley, who is widely seen as a possible future presidential contender. "That is a lie. America is not a racist country."
But the programme also featured speakers seemingly aimed at firing up Trump’s base, including Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a couple from St. Louis who drew national attention for brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters who marched past their home.
As befits the first president who starred in his own reality television show, the four-night event will focus heavily on Trump himself.
While his acceptance speech will not come until Thursday, when he will address Republicans from the White House, Trump plans to appear each night, and several members of his family were due to deliver prime-time speeches.
In contrast to the Democratic convention, which featured three former presidents, the Republican event does not include former Republican President George W. Bush, who has declined to endorse Trump’s reelection.
Biden, 77, is leading Trump, 74, in opinion polls. Biden and his fellow Democrats portrayed Trump as a force for darkness, chaos and incompetence during their convention, while stressing the Democrats’ diversity and values like “empathy” and “unity.”