Republicans predicted a national “horror movie” should U.S. President Donald Trump lose the election in November, offering dark warnings for the president’s die-hard base on the opening night of his scaled down national convention on Monday even as others tried to broaden Trump’s political appeal.
A school teacher warned that conservative values were under attack from labour unions. A small business owner charged that businesses across the country were facing unwarranted pandemic shutdowns and riotous mobs. And Rep. Matt Gaetz likened the prospect of Democrat Joe Biden’s election to a horror movie.
“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz declared.
But the evening program also highlights the tension within the party. Trump’s harsh attacks against Democrats who are trying to expand mail voting and demonstrators protesting deaths in police custody, for example, often delight his die-hard loyalists. Yet convention organizers are also featuring a diverse lineup with a more inclusive message designed to expand Trump’s political coalition beyond his white, working-class base.
Two of the three coveted final speaking slots Monday night went to people of colour who have been openly critical of Trump in the past, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The lineup also featured Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple arrested after pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their home.
WATCH | The McCloskeys defend their actions against protesters:
“Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals, but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens,” the McCloskeys said in prepared remarks that broke from the optimistic vision organizers promised.
“Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”
Earlier in the evening, the head of the pro-Trump student organization Turning Point USA called the president “the bodyguard of Western civilization.”
Charlie Kirk said during his speech that Trump had reclaimed the U.S. government “from the rotten cartel of insiders that have been destroying our country.”
Those cheering Trump’s leadership on the pandemic included a coronavirus patient, a small business owner from Montana and a nurse practitioner from Virginia.
“As a health-care professional, I can tell you without hesitation, Donald Trump’s quick action and leadership saved thousands of lives during COVID-19,” said Amy Ford, a registered nurse who was deployed to New York and Texas to fight the coronavirus.
A Black Democrat lawmaker in Georgia’s state legislature says he’s supporting Trump because he’s made improvements benefiting the Black community.
Rep. Vernon Jones said “all hell broke loose” when he announced his support for Trump. But Jones said he stands by his decision in part because Trump has backed initiatives including increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities, criminal justice reform and “the most inclusive economy ever.”
Talk of rigged elections
Trump, who was not scheduled to deliver his keynote convention address until later in the week, nevertheless made multiple public appearances throughout the first day of the four-day convention. And while the evening programming was carefully scripted, Trump was not.
“The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Trump said during his midday appearance. The convention kicked off with a day of “official business” in Charlotte before moving to Washington for prime-time programming.
WATCH | Jones explains why he’s voting for Turmp:
Trump reached the necessary threshold of 1,276 votes shortly after noon ET, an entirely expected development given he received little opposition in Republican primaries, with some states even barring other potential candidates from running.
Trump has sought to minimize the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, but its impact was plainly evident at the Charlotte Convention Center, where just 336 delegates gathered instead of the thousands once expected to converge on this city for a week-long extravaganza. Attendees sat at well-spaced tables at first and masks were mandatory, though many flouted the regulation.
Attendees crowded close to the stage when Trump spoke.
In a video that aired Monday night, Trump moderated a panel of frontline workers who spoke about their experiences with COVID-19. No one in the group, assembled closely around Trump, wore a mask.
WATCH | Trump’s conversation with frontline workers:
Aides hope the convention will give them a chance to recast the story of Trump’s presidency and shift the campaign’s thrust from a referendum on him to a choice between his vision for America’s future and the one presented by Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“We are obviously disappointed we could not hold this event in the same way we had originally planned,” said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. But she thanked the city for allowing the convention to move forward in its truncated form.
The evening program also includes a collection of average Americans praising Trump’s leadership: a public school teacher from California, a small business owner from Montana and a nurse practitioner from Virginia.
One of several African Americans on the schedule, former football star Herschel Walker, defended the president against those who call him a racist.
“It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald,” Walker said in prepared remarks. “The worst one is `racist.’ I take it as a personal insult that people would think I would have a 37-year friendship with a racist.”
Some of the planned remarks for the evening program were prerecorded, while others were to be delivered live from a Washington auditorium.
Melania Trump will speak Tuesday from the Rose Garden, Pence will appear from Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Wednesday and Trump will deliver his marquee acceptance speech on Thursday from the South Lawn at the White House before a crowd of supporters — blurring the lines between governing and campaigning yet again.
In addition to the president’s son, Donald Jr., and Haley, Monday’s list of speakers includes members of Congress Matt Gaetz of Florida, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.