Trump leaned into themes that his campaign has already sought to hammer home, casting Biden as a vessel for socialist policies and issuing a bleak projection about a decline of public safety under a would-be Biden administration.
The president’s 70-minute speech was stocked with blistering attacks on Biden that simultaneously portrayed his opponent as a failed career politician and a “trojan horse” for a radical, left-wing agenda.
He sought to cast the election as a choice between the “American dream” and a “socialist agenda”; between economic prosperity and decline; and law and order or chaos. The president described himself as the defender of traditional American values and warned U.S. culture would be unrecognizable under Democratic control.
“Joe Biden is not the savior 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,” Trump said.
He decried Biden as “weak,” accused him of being a hostage to China and attempted to tie him to progressive figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
The president’s speech coincided with a trio of outside crises that have roiled the country. Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday, wreaking havoc on Texas and Louisiana. The country has been wracked by protests after yet another police shooting of a Black man. Roughly 1,000 Americans are dying each day from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Trump worked to cast his response to the coronavirus as a success, seeking to change perceptions as polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of the virus. The Democratic National Convention the week prior featured biting criticism of the president’s handling of the pandemic.
In a pre-buttal to Trump’s convention address, Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) rebuked the president for his handling of the virus and accused him of failing a basic duty to protect the American people.
The coronavirus has largely been an afterthought at the convention, with few speakers spending time reflecting on the loss of roughly 180,000 American lives. Indeed, Trump’s convention speech at the White House ran afoul of public health guidelines, including a 1,500-person audience with people seated closely together without wearing masks.
Trump touted his administration’s work to produce critical supplies and expressed optimism about the prospect of a vaccine “before the end of the year” or sooner.
At the same time, he needled Biden for recent comments saying he would heed advice of medical experts if they recommended another shutdown.
“His shutdown would inflict unthinkable and lasting harm on our nation's children, families and citizens of all backgrounds,” Trump asserted, adding pressure to Democrats to loosen restrictions meant to spread the virus.
“They have to get back to work and they have to get back to school,” he said.
The president made passing mention of the hurricane at the top of his remarks, but Trump did not mention the police shooting of Jacob Blake that has provoked days of racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wis., saying only that the justice system would prosecute instances of police misconduct.
Instead, Trump said he would never allow for “mob rule” to take hold in “Democrat-run” cities like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and New York.
“There is violence and danger in the streets of many Democrat-run cities throughout America,” Trump said. “This problem could easily be fixed if they wanted to. We must always have law and order. All federal crimes are being investigated, prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Blake remains hospitalized after he was shot in the back by the police, sparking days of demonstrations in Kenosha.
NBA teams, led by the Milwaukee Bucks, postponed playoff games out of protest. Other teams in other leagues followed, while Trump responded by calling the NBA a “political organization.”
The president also did not address the young man who appears to be a Trump supporter who was arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of two people at demonstrations in Kenosha on Tuesday.
Biden on Thursday accused Trump of “rooting for more violence," saying he thinks the president believes it will benefit his reelection effort to cast all protesters as rioters and vandals.
The president and his campaign are hoping for a polling boost off of this week’s convention. Biden has held a steady lead over Trump in national polls, but the race has tightened in swing states like Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, according to recent surveys. The two candidates will face off in three debates starting at the end of September.
Trump delivered his speech from the South Lawn of the White House, shattering traditional lines between governing and campaigning and drawing sharp criticism from ethics experts. The hundreds of fervent supporters in attendance, who frequently stood to applaud and chant “four more years,” gave the speech an atmosphere similar to one of his large campaign rallies.
After the speech, a huge fireworks display was set off using the Washington Monument and National Mall as a backdrop — another move that crossed a traditional line. Opera singers then sang to Trump and his supporters. One of the songs was "Hallelujah," which was memorably performed by the "Saturday Night Live" star Kate MacKinnon, who portrayed Hillary Clinton, on an episode of the show the weekend after Trump's election.
On the north side of the White House, protesters gathered in opposition to Trump and his speech. Bull horns and sirens were faintly audible in the background as Trump spoke.
The speech drew on similar themes to Trump’s 2016 acceptance speech in Cleveland. He decried violence in Democrat-run cities, railed against establishment politicians and cast himself as an outsider giving voice to forgotten Americans.
“This November, we must turn the page forever on this failed political class,” Trump said. “The fact is, I'm here, and they're not — and that's because of you.”
Yet the speech also contained a number of notes of optimism from a president known for speeches about American carnage.
Trump offered his most extensive outline to date of what he would hope to do with another four years in office. He has previously struggled to offer a coherent platform.
On Thursday, he pledged to land a woman on the moon and an American on Mars, protect the Second Amendment, create 10 million jobs in the next 10 months, further cut taxes and end supply chain reliance on China.
Many of his second-term promises were extremely broad or contradicted by his own actions. He spoke generally about protecting Medicare and Social Security despite suspending the payroll tax, ensuring protections for pre-existing conditions despite suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act, and “restoring patriotic education to our schools.”
The president spent a portion of his speech touting his accomplishments in office, highlighting the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement signed into law this year, his work cracking down on illegal immigration and building the wall at the southern border with Mexico, his success in tapping conservative judges to the federal judiciary, and the military’s erosion of the Islamic State caliphate.
Some of Trump’s pronouncements were misleading or inaccurate. He claimed, for instance, that he would appoint “more than 300 federal judges” by the end of his first term, however, the Senate confirmed Trump’s 200th judicial pick just in June.
At one point he warned that Democrats would “demolish the suburbs, confiscate your guns, and appoint justices who will wipe away your Second Amendment and other Constitutional freedoms,” none of which Biden and other Democrats have said is the case.
The convention, including Thursday evening’s program, featured a number of speakers who sought to make the case that Trump has worked hard on behalf of Black America and to counter assertions that the president is racist.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson declared that those who call Trump a racist “could not be more wrong.” Alice Johnson, a criminal justice advocate who Trump granted clemency, praised Trump for his work securing the First Step Act.
“I have done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president,” Trump said, repeating a line he often uses to counter criticism of his rhetoric on race.