WHITE HOUSE - During his White House address Thursday accepting his party’s nomination for a second term, President Donald Trump said the November election “will decide whether we will defend the American way of life or whether we will allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.”
Trump, who faces a strong challenge from former Vice President Joe Biden, told a large crowd on the White House South Lawn “this is the most important election in the history of our country.”
The 1,000-plus invited attendees, including many Republican members of Congress, were seated close to each other and most did not wear face masks, defying public health advice amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, who trails Biden in national polls and political battleground state surveys, devoted much of his speech to a blistering attack on his Democratic opponent, denouncing him at one point as a “Trojan horse” for far-left radicals and anarchists who want to destroy the country.
To rousing cheers from the audience, Trump said the former vice president “is not a 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.”
“For 47 years, Joe Biden took the donations of blue-collar workers, gave them hugs and even kisses,” Trump said. “And told them he felt their pain. And then he flew back to Washington and voted to ship our jobs to China and many other distant lands."
The president, in his 70-minute speech, emphasized what he called his tough approach toward China, in terms of the economy and blaming Beijing for allowing the coronavirus to escape its borders.
In fact, Trump enjoyed good relations with China leader Xi Jinping early in his administration while the two leaders engaged in major trade talks, and later, after the coronavirus began to spread, Trump praised Xi for his handling of the crisis. Once the relationship soured and Trump began blaming China for U.S. public health and economic woes, the president stepped up his criticism of Biden as a dupe of China.
“Joe Biden’s agenda is made in China. My agenda is made in the USA,” Trump said.
If reelected, Trump promised, “We will go right after China. We will not rely on them one bit.”
Just before the president’s speech, Biden’s campaign attacked Trump as “the weakest president that we've ever had when it comes to China.”
“He has failed again and again to stand up for American interests to the Chinese government,” the Biden campaign said in a statement.
Democrats hit back
The Democratic Party nominee’s campaign contended that “when coronavirus was emerging, Trump spread Xi’s lies. And his tariff war with China has devastated American farmers, businesses, consumers, and workers. He even begged President Xi to bail out his reelection campaign.”
In his speech, Trump said Biden “has spent his entire career on the wrong side of history.”
The president also sought to draw a philosophical and moral contrast between the two parties.
“In the left’s backward view, they do not see America as the most free, just and exceptional nation on Earth. Instead, they see a wicked nation that must be punished for its sin.”
Trump declared that “Joe Biden is weak. He takes his marching orders from liberal hypocrites.”
Biden, at a virtual campaign event earlier Thursday, criticized the president as “totally irresponsible” for holding a purely political event on the White House lawn, “virtually throwing every major rule in the dustbin.”
A fireworks display, which spelled out the name “Trump” and “2020” above the Washington Monument and the National Mall, immediately followed the president’s speech.
Aside from his speech live in front of the crowd at the White House, and one Wednesday night in Baltimore by Vice President Mike Pence, the Republicans’ four-day convention was mostly a virtual affair, similar to the Democratic conclave a week ago.
By turning to virtual conventions, both parties were attempting to limit the spread of the coronavirus that, according to Johns Hopkins University, has killed more than 180,000 people in the U.S. and infected 5.8 million.
“We'll produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner,” Trump predicted Thursday evening.
The president’s key advisers believe he improved his political standing this week with speakers praising his 3½-year tenure in the White House and lambasting Biden, most of them standing on a stage at the empty Mellon Auditorium a short distance from the White House.
Trump was introduced by one of his daughters, Ivanka, who is also a White House adviser.
“Dad, people attack you for being unconventional, but I love you for being real,” she said. “And I respect you for being effective.”
During the Republican convention, racial turmoil erupted in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the police shooting Sunday of a Black man, Jacob Blake, touched off street protests against police. Buildings were also set afire in the Midwestern city of 100,000 residents. A 17-year-old youth from the neighboring state of Illinois has been arrested and charged in the killing of two protesters and the wounding of a third.
Trump, in his acceptance speech, did not mention the wounding of Blake, who is paralyzed from the waist down, his father said. He reemphasized his law-and-order approach, condemning agitators, looters and anarchists in several Democrat-run cities.
Trump and Pence, along with numerous convention speakers, portrayed their administration as a staunch supporter of law enforcement, standing against protests, some of which have turned violent, that have erupted since the May 25 death of a Black man, George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The president’s address kept fact-checkers busy.
Some of the president’s comments were false or misleading, according to PolitiFact, which is run by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school and research organization.
Polls show Biden leading Trump by about 7 percentage points, according to an aggregation of surveys by the Real Clear Politics website. However, Biden's edge is thinner in several key battleground states that could once again prove decisive in the election.
Only two U.S. presidents have lost reelection contests after a single term in office in the past four decades: Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992.