A triumphant Donald Trump accepted the Republican White House nomination on Thursday, promising fearful Americans he would restore “safety” to a country mired in crises that had lost its way.
Trump “humbly and gratefully” endorsed the Republican mantle before 2,000 raucous party activists in Cleveland, in a strikingly populist speech that offered a dark view of today’s America. Between defining chants of “U-S-A” and “Trump, Trump, Trump” the mogul-turned-TV-star-turned-politico cast himself as the “law and order candidate” and vowed to champion “people who work hard but no longer have a voice.”
“I am your voice,” he declared pointing into the cameras, promising a return to more secure times with “millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth.”
Tapping into public angst over recent racially-tinged shootings and seemingly indiscriminate terror attacks, Trump offered a tough-on-crime message that was reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s election-winning strategy in 1968. The “crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end,” he said. “Beginning on Jan. 20, of 2017, safety will be restored.”
But Trump also showed why he is one of the most controversial U.S. politicians in living memory. Speaking for over an hour, he repeated many of the hard right themes from a bruising primary campaign.
Foreigners from terror-linked countries would be banned, a wall will be built on the Mexican border and trade deals would be ripped up and renegotiated. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said.
One-time presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, a Democrat, took umbrage. “Trump: ‘I alone can fix this.’ Is this guy running for president or dictator?” he tweeted. But the Republican party rank-and-file lapped it up, rising to its feet in standing ovation after standing ovation and displaying none of the divisions that have plagued the four-day convention.
“I think Donald is very real, and I like that about him,” said Dayna Dent, 69, retired, a delegate from Washington state. This, a Trump top aide remarked, is now the “party of Trump.” Many of the Republican old guard had stayed away.
The real estate scion’s acceptance speech was his first major primetime address to the nation and the opening salvo of November’s general election.
Nationwide polls put Trump, who has never held elected office, almost neck and neck with Clinton, the former secretary of state heavily criticized over an email scandal. Clinton will formally accept the Democratic nomination at her own convention next week.
Trump painted her as corrupt, incompetent and hopelessly out of touch. “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” he said. Clinton fired off an icy rebuke on Twitter, telling him: “We are better than this.”
Throughout the Cleveland convention Republicans have rallied around chants of “lock her up.” Speakers lined up to denounce Clinton for the deaths of their loved ones, dodgy foreign policies and putting national security at risk by using a private email server for sensitive government information.
Trump accused the former secretary of state of being a political insider with “bad instincts” and “bad judgment.”
“My message is that things have to change—and they have to change right now,” he said. “I’m with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”
It remains unclear if that message will be enough to unite a Republican Party riven with doubts over his candidature. On Wednesday those doubts were laid bare when Trump’s primary rival and conservative flag-bearer Ted Cruz pointedly refused to endorse him. “Vote your conscience,” Cruz told the convention to a chorus of boos.
Warming up the crowd before Trump took to the stage Friday, his daughter Ivanka tried to soften her father’s image. “He is color blind and gender neutral, he hires the best person for the job. Period,” she said. “My father not only has the strength and ability necessary to be the next president, but also the kindness and compassion that will enable him to be the leader that this country needs.”
Trump’s campaign has defied political norms—fueling racial tensions, offending key voting blocs, eschewing big-spending ad buys and an elaborate campaign organization. It has relied instead on heavy media coverage.
But his rollercoaster campaign defeated 16 rivals and steamrolled stubborn party opposition after being written off as a joke. He has shocked foreign leaders by questioning key pillars of American foreign policy.
He recently hedged on normally sacrosanct support for NATO allies, warning it would depend “if they fulfill their commitments to us.”
In office, Trump promised to “put America first.” Americans, he said, have “lived through one international humiliation after another.”
“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he said. “The American people will come first once again.”