Trump accepts Republican nomination with blistering attacks on Biden

Eli Stokols
Noah Bierman and Chris Megerian Los Angeles Times (TNS)
President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination Thursday night before a packed crowd on the White House South Lawn, delivering a storm of angry broadsides and false charges against Democratic nominee Joe Biden as he sought to re-frame the November election as a choice rather than a referendum on his first term.

With the country gripped by a deadly pandemic, a deep recession and racial unrest, Trump offered an opaque agenda for a second term, focusing instead on savaging Biden by name 41 separate times.

Accusing his opponent of "catastrophic betrayals and blunders" Trump warned of "left-wing anarchy and mayhem" if the Democrats retake the White House even as he stoked fears of the widespread protests this summer over systemic racism and police abuses.

"At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas," Trump said, mocking Biden's claim that the race is about the soul of America.

"Joe Biden is not a savior of America's soul," Trump said. "He is the destroyer of America's jobs. And if given the chance, he would be the destroyer of American greatness."

He repeatedly portrayed Biden as a captive of the party's left wing, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"Joe Biden is weak," Trump said. "He takes his marching orders from liberal hypocrites who drive their cities into the ground while fleeing far from the scene of the wreckage."

Leveraging all the trappings of the presidency, Trump addressed a crowd of more than 1,500 people on the South Lawn, ignoring ethics rules about using the White House for partisan events and public health guidelines about social distancing and avoiding large gatherings during the coronavirus crisis.

Sitting close together in narrow rows of chairs, the crowd was mostly unmasked and only slightly larger than the number of Americans who died of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

With nearly the entire country still partly locked down from the pandemic, images of the crowd, gathered before rows of flags and the Truman Balcony bathed in lights, offered television viewers a vivid symbol of White House defiance of public health experts.

In a stemwinder of a speech, lasting more than 70 minutes, Trump made an extraordinary pitch for Black voters who have largely shunned his racially-charged rhetoric and policies.

"I say very modestly, that I have done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president," Trump said.

But he also stoked the fears of white voters, claiming again that Democrats "will demolish the suburbs" and that Biden seeks to defund law enforcement, something the former vice president has repeatedly said he opposes.

Offering few specific proposals of his own at the close of a four-day convention that did not produce a party platform, Trump instead denounced the Democrats' platform, which he called "the most extreme set of proposals ever put forward by a major party nominee."

After trailing in polls for months, Trump mixed grievance-laden appeals to his base with optimistic rhetoric aimed at winning back wavering Republicans and swing voters.

He sought to separate his administration's accomplishments from his polarizing personality and to convince a fractious, nerve-jangled country that his presidency has succeeded. But the Trump campaign's new slogan tacitly acknowledges the need for a do-over: "Make America Great Again. Again."

The speakers ahead of Trump largely highlighted scary stories about rampaging mobs, and ignored the pandemic that has killed more than 180,000 Americans and put up to 30 million Americans out of work.

Several high-profile speakers shared the evening's undercard, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the president's daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and the president's personal attorney.

But those willing to shower Trump with unadulterated praise got the most time, including Dan Scavino, his social media director, and Dana White, the CEO of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Trump took the stage hours after Hurricane Laura hit parts of Louisiana and eastern Texas, leaving at least four dead and widespread damage, and as the capstone of a four-day convention where nary a speaker acknowledged the growing danger of human-caused global warming, a phenomenon that Trump has dismissed.

His remarks also came as protests, and scattered vandalism, intensified this week after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times at close range in front of his children.

Although the protests erupted on Trump's watch, the speakers uniformly blamed Democrats, warning that Biden would make the country less safe.

"You can have four more years of President Trump," said Patrick Lynch, president of New York City's police union. "Or you can have no safety, no justice, no peace."

Ann Dorn, the widow of a retired St. Louis police captain who was killed during an outbreak of vandalism in the city, provided the emotional core of the night's program. Ann is white; her late husband, David, was Black.

"Violence and destruction are not legitimate forms of protest," she said as a single tear trickled down her left cheek. "They do not safeguard Black lives. They destroy them."

Supporters on the South Lawn responded with applause, but Dorn's appearance was controversial within her own family. David's daughters told the St. Louis American, a Black newspaper, that their father opposed Trump and wouldn't want his widow speaking at the convention.

And in a fiery, high-volume speech, Giuliani railed about rampant crime, but his concluding call to action again - "Mr. President, make our nation safe again!" - served as a reminder that any unrest in America is happening on Trump's watch.

Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, was blunt during a TV interview Thursday morning, explaining that Trump and his campaign view the protests as politically advantageous for the president.

"The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who's best on public safety, and law and order," she said.

Biden, in his first public appearance of the week, blamed Trump for inciting violence and provoking more protests by sending armed troops into cities.

"He just keeps pouring fuel on the fire. He's encouraging this. He's not diminishing it at all," Biden said on MSNBC, rejecting Pence's claim in his acceptance speech that people "won't be safe in Joe Biden's America."

"This happens to be Donald Trump's America. Donald Trump's America," Biden said. "The biggest safety issue is all the people dying from COVID. We're worse off than any other country in the world."