CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) - President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans opened their national convention on Monday by painting 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 and chaos.
Trump set the tone early in the day when he addressed delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina, after formally securing their 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 characterized as a dark and gloomy Democratic convention last week. But the first night’s prime-time program featured speakers who peppered their remarks with ominous predictions if Democrats win power.
“They want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear,” Trump campaign adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle said. “They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see, and think, and believe, so they can control how you live.”
The four-day convention opened at a critical juncture for Trump, 74, who trails Biden, 77 in national opinion polls during a pandemic that has killed here more than 176,000 Americans and erased millions of jobs.
Democrats drew their own dismal picture of what four more years under Trump would look like at their convention last week.
Like its Democratic counterpart, the Republican convention was largely virtual. Most speakers addressed a quiet auditorium in Washington, D.C., bowing to the reality of the pandemic despite Trump’s having pushed for a big event in front of thousands of raucous admirers.
Trump has focused on a “law and order” 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 and Guilfoyle’s boyfriend, portrayed the ongoing civil unrest as violent assaults on small businesses by anarchists and said Democrats would fail to keep neighborhoods safe.
The dystopian language echoed that of Trump’s 2017 inaugural speech, when he vowed to end the “American carnage” of crime, poverty and manufacturing decline. It remains to be seen whether voters find the same argument as compelling after Trump has held power for more than three years.
“What you heard tonight was a parade of dark and divisive fear-mongering designed to distract from the fact that Donald Trump does not have an affirmative case to make to the American people about why he should be re-elected,” Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said.
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, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, will merely be puppets of radical left-wing activists.
Multiple speakers accused the moderate Biden of wanting to defund the police and ban fracking, though he has rejected both positions.
Two Republican rising stars - Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, and Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who is Indian American - dismissed the idea that Biden and his party would be better stewards of minority voter interests.
“In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist,” said Haley, widely seen as a possible future presidential contender. “That is a lie. America is not a racist country.”
Another frenetic day for Trump threatened to overshadow his attempt to recalibrate the campaign. Democrats in Congress examined U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, over whether he was deliberately sabotaging mail service to harm voting by mail, while one of Trump’s closest advisers, Kellyanne Conway, prepared to depart the White House.
The New York attorney general’s investigation into Trump’s family business deepened on Monday, while the National Guard was deployed in Wisconsin following unrest after a Black man was shot in the back by police.
A Reuters investigation revealed a sex scandal involving evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr., a high-profile Trump supporter, whose tenure at the Christian university he runs appeared in limbo.
TRUMP ON THE ATTACK
Earlier in the day, the president repeated his assertion that voting by mail, which is expected to be far more common during the pandemic, will lead to widespread fraud. Independent election security experts say voter fraud is extraordinarily rare in the United States.
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 of Democrats. “They’re using COVID to defraud the American people - all of our people - of a fair and free election.”
During the prime-time program, 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.
But during two prerecorded appearances at the White House, where Trump spoke with essential workers and rescued hostages, none of the participants wore masks, which have 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 Scott, Haley, former National Football League star Herschel Walker and Kim Klacik, an African-American congressional candidate from Baltimore.
But the program 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.
Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey, and Jeff Mason in Charlotte, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, Leah Mills, Andrea Shalal, Heather Timmons, James Oliphant, Trevor Hunnicutt, Michael Martina, Diane Bartz and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Peter Cooney, Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller
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