Donald Trump, wearing a look of smug satisfaction, stood on stage amidst the blizzard of confetti and the piped-in classic rock, finally able to prove he is who he’s claimed to be all along: A winner.
“I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States,” the newly anointed Republican nominee said, cueing ear-splitting cheers that shook the Quicken Loans Arena.
The balloon drop followed an at-times meandering, one-hour-plus address in which the 70-year-old master of branding proclaimed himself “the law and order candidate.”
He vowed to protect America’s ailing manufacturing class from “unfair” trade deals. He promised to fix a “rigged” campaign finance system.
“Help is on the way! Help is on the way!” came the cheer from the crowd.
Fixing a ‘rigged’ system
His reassurance that America, under his leadership, would repair its relationship with Israel, prompted loud whoops. One New Jersey delegate recording the speech lowered her phone to wipe her moistened eyes.
“Yes, yes, that’s right,” she said, punching the air.
Even some of Trump’s most vocal detractors apparently caved.
Colorado’s Kendal Unruh, who organized a Free the Delegates insurgency on the Republican National Convention rules committee, conceded “it was a great speech.”
Her effort to unbind delegates in a bid to unseat Trump failed this week. Though Unruh said she was still bewildered that Trump would be her party’s nominee, she dropped her plan to watch the New York billionaire’s address in silent protest with her Colorado delegation.
“I politely clapped [at] this surreal moment,” she wrote in a text message, adding that some of the peers who aided her push for unbinding delegates have since donned pro-Trump hats.
Trump has not won her vote in November, she said. But neither has presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Not vintage Trump
Thursday night’s speech was not vintage Trump, at least not in the manner in which it was delivered — with aid of a teleprompter. The tool has proven invaluable for keeping the candidate on message.
Even so, the address did deliver familiar bromides.
There was messaging about securing borders, about clamping down on “brutal Islamic terrorism,” and vague reassurance that his business acumen proves his ability to “make our country rich again.”
A foreboding tone
His references to a signature policy — his promise to construct a wall along the border with Mexico — was met with intermittent cheers of “Build that wall!” and “U.S.A! U.S.A!”
“Beginning on Jan. 20, 2017, safety will be restored,” he said, promising to “defeat the barbarians of ISIS” and “liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities.” Still unclear, was how he planned to “fix,” as he put it, the very concerns he brought up.
That appeared to matter little on the convention floor.
Trump had addressed nearly all the anxieties his conservative base had been waiting to hear about, said Terry Lathan, chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party, batting away at balloons as they drifted from the stadium ceiling.
“I’m starting to feel a little sorry for Hillary Clinton. Because Donald Trump is going to wipe. Her. Out,” she said.
Her husband, Jerry, also an Alabama delegate, was “amazed” by the diversity of voting blocs he felt Trump had reached out to.
“The Christian conservatives. The union workers. The LGBT community. He offered something for everybody,” he said.
Another thing he offered, according to Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University, was a dark vision of an America that’s currently under siege.
“Negative on all fronts,” Shapiro said. But, he added, “it was forceful enough” to at least galvanize the Republican base “who are dissatisfied with current national leaders and feel left behind.”
The foreboding tone began with an opening in which Trump said the convention was taking place “at a moment of crisis for our nation,” drawing on fears about recent attacks on law enforcement, terrorism in urban centres and poverty among Latino and black communities.
“The Democrats will have to present a more positive picture of Obama’s accomplishments and where things are now looking up and poised go forward,” he said.
It was reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s 1968 address on law and order, noted Donald Green, an expert on political psychology and the co-author of Partisan Hearts and Minds.
Green said there was a focus on so-called “valence issues” that most people support — such as crime, employment, respect for America and trade deficits — “as opposed to ideological issues like regulation and spending.”
For Trump, wrapping the biggest speech of his political career thus far should be a relief, following a marathon primary against 16 opponents and an anything-but-predictable Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
During four days of tensions, delegates have witnessed a coup plot from within, the spectre of protests involving open-carry gun owners and groups including Black Lives Matter and white nationalists, and a prime-time keynote speech from Texas Senator Ted Cruz that drew furious boos and walkouts after his failure to endorse Trump.
As with the nominee, those concerns defied expectations.
The coup plot was neutralized by Rules Committee technicalities. Those worrisome violent demonstrations never materialized, for the most part, possibly owing to a 5,500-strong police presence. Even Cruz’s plea for Republicans to “vote your conscience” was overruled by Trump himself, who crashed the Texan’s climactic ending, emerging from his box seat and stealing some of the thunder.
‘Gnashing their teeth in my face’
Questions linger about how Trump can mend a fractured party, and win over a base that’s dubious about his conservative credentials. Doing so will be essential to claiming victory in November’s general election. This week, political statisticians with The Upshot, the New York Times presidential predictions blog, ran an analysis of voting histories and concluded Clinton has a 76 per cent chance of besting Trump.
The Republican divisiveness was on full display Thursday morning at a hotel breakfast featuring Cruz, said Thomas Mathis, a Texas delegate who came face-to-face with Cruz supporters who called him a “coward” for refusing to side with the “conscience” rebels.
Other than a small group of people who have suffered massive and embarrassing losses, the party is VERY united. Great love in the arena!
Mathis, a 30-year-old Odessa “roughneck” oil worker, turned his back to the room as Cruz spoke. Supporters of the Texas senator confronted him.
“I had people gnashing their teeth in my face,” said Mathis, who voted for Rand Paul in the Texas primary.
He dismissed the tensions as the actions of a vocal minority, insisting the Republican party remains unified.
“We have our candidate. I’m excited,” Mathis said, adding that he believes the party has chosen a winner. “Now I can only pray for Trump and hope that he is the patriot I hope he is.”
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