CLEVELAND — Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night, casting himself as a political outsider uniquely prepared to steady a troubled country and come to the rescue of struggling Americans betrayed by the Washington establishment and both political parties.
In what was the biggest speech of his unlikely political career, Trump sounded many of the same themes that have driven his insurgent campaign since he rode down a golden escalator into the presidential race a little over a year ago. He painted a dark and frightening vision of a country under siege by hostile forces here and abroad, a nation strained by political and financial unrest at home.
He cast Hillary Clinton, his presumptive Democratic opponent, as someone tainted by “bad instincts and bad judgment” who has left the country weak and unsafe. Linking her to President Obama, Trump called Clinton a “puppet” of special interests, determined to maintain the “rigged system” in Washington and someone who has ignored the plight of millions of blue-collar workers who have seen their jobs outsourced overseas.
“Hillary Clinton’s message is that things will never change. My message is that things have to change, and they have to change right now,” Trump declared.
Presenting himself as the champion of the everyman, the celebrity mogul said he wakes up every morning “determined to deliver for the people … that have been neglected, ignored and abandoned.”
“These are the forgotten men and women of our country — and they are forgotten. … These are the people who work hard but no longer have a voice,” Trump said. “I am your voice.”
Trump’s speech capped a four-day Republican National Convention here that was marred by party division and missteps by the Trump campaign, including the prime time speech by the candidate’s wife, Melania, which lifted several words and phrases from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention.
On Wednesday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was booed by delegates for his decision not to endorse Trump. That drama largely overshadowed remarks by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s choice for running mate, whose rollout last week was also upstaged by speculation about the candidate’s second-guessing of this decision.
Trump aides had hoped the convention would not only help him to unite a party bitterly divided over his candidacy, but also to present another side of him to Americans across the political spectrum unhappy with the status quo. It’s unclear whether Trump’s speech did anything to strengthen his path for the general election, including broadening his appeal to swing voters and forging the party unity he desperately needs.
Running more than an hour, Trump’s speech hewed largely to the themes he’s echoed repeatedly in the last 13 months of his campaign. He did not soften his rhetoric on issues that have proven divisive on the campaign trail, including his proposal to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. (“Build that wall, build that wall!” the crowd roared when Trump invoked his immigration plan.) He also offered no new policy details, instead presenting a bleak state of the nation — Americans fearful of terrorism, violence at home and losing their jobs.
He repeatedly emphasized his call to put “America first” in foreign and economic policy, arguing that this was central to stabilizing the country’s future. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he said.
Although Trump has been accused by critics of using inflammatory rhetoric, the GOP candidate pointed the finger in the other direction — blaming Obama for dividing the country. “The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the president to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone,” Trump said. He accused the Obama administration of failing U.S. inner cities on jobs, education and crime, and vowed that he would be the “law and order president” and work to improve the circumstances of kids, no matter their economic means.
But Trump also seemed to criticize members of his own party for pursing a foreign policy that has left the country unsafe. Though he did not name former President George W. Bush, Trump said that “after 15 years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been.”
Still, Trump laid most of the blame at Clinton’s feet, focusing on missteps by the Obama administration while she was secretary of state. As he has in recent days, Trump implied that Clinton’s policies were in some ways responsible for the rise of ISIS — which, he noted, “was not even on the map” before 2009.
“This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness,” Trump declared.
For a freewheeling candidate not known for his discipline on the campaign trail, Trump was remarkably restrained in his acceptance speech, reading much of his text with the aid of a teleprompter. But angered by Republicans who initially wrote off his candidacy as a joke, Trump couldn’t resist getting in a few digs, reminding his audience of his historic vote totals and how he had proved many political pundits wrong.
As Trump wrapped up his speech, he was joined on stage by Pence and their families, as tens of thousand of balloons fell and confetti was sprayed over the thousands of delegates below. But in a surreal moment fitting for an unconventional candidate in one of the most unusual conventions in recent memory, the arena’s speaker system began playing the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The song is one of Trump’s favorites and a mainstay of his raucous campaign rallies, but it also seemed to be a message from the candidate to a divided party.