Trump, accepting Republican nomination on White House lawn, says Biden would be 'the destroyer of American greatness'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump warned that Joe Biden would usher in violence and chaos if elected, making the case for his own re-election as he formally accepted his party's nomination Thursday on the final night of the Republican National Convention.

"This election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life or whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it," Trump said, speaking to a crowd on the White House South Lawn. "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 sins.

"Joe Biden is not the savior of America's soul," Trump continued. "And if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness."

Trump accepted the nomination trailing his Democratic rival in the polls. Facing criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 180,000 people in the U.S. and devastated the economy, Trump is leading an America roiled by national protests against racial injustice, with the latest wave originating in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man.

The four-day convention — forced by the pandemic to abandon the original North Carolina location and relocate to Washington — tried to drive a consistent message: Trump is due credit for his coronavirus response and, if re-elected, will quash protests and rescue the injured economy.

Police funding, PPE and NAFTA: Read a fact check of President Donald Trump's acceptance speech.

Protesters gathered outside the White House grounds Thursday night and could be heard on the South Lawn, the much-criticized location for Trump's acceptance speech. Presidents have traditionally avoided using the public areas of the executive mansion for overt partisan politics.

Image: Donald Trump (Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: Donald Trump (Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images)

Republicans amplified a "law and order" message throughout the convention, warning of violence and chaos under Democratic leadership while seeking to counter perceptions that Trump is a racist who has purposefully inflamed racial tensions for political benefit.

"I have done more in three years for the Black community than Joe Biden has done in 47 years — and when I'm re-elected, the best is yet to come," Trump said.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was the only RNC speaker to mention Blake by name.

"Before I begin, I'd like to say that our hearts go out to the Blake family and the other families who've been impacted by the tragic events in Kenosha," Carson said Thursday. "History reminds us that necessary change comes through hope and love, not senseless and destructive violence."

Image: Demonstrations near the White House (Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: Demonstrations near the White House (Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images)

Trump referred to the recent unrest in Wisconsin briefly but made no mention of Blake or other Black Americans whose deaths have dominated much of the national conversation this election year.

"In the strongest possible terms, the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and New York," Trump said.

Trump began his remarks by briefly acknowledging Hurricane Laura, which hit along the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, and announced that he would visit the affected areas over the weekend.

The president also addressed the coronavirus Thursday, offering an optimistic view of the pandemic and promising a vaccine by the end of the year — a timeline that health experts say is unrealistic.

"If we had listened to Joe, hundreds of thousands more Americans would have died," Trump said. "Joe Biden's plan is not a solution to the virus but rather a surrender."

Image: Fireworks over the White House (Doug Mills / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: Fireworks over the White House (Doug Mills / AFP - Getty Images)

The White House crowd embodied Trump's message that the virus is under control, as 1,500 supporters crowded on the South Lawn for the speech. Chairs for guests were not spaced out, and few wore masks.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadow said "a number of people" attending the event would be tested for the coronavirus. The campaign contracted a firm of experts to advise on appropriate precautions for all parts of the convention that had live audiences.

Trump's remarks were punctuated by rounds of applause and cheers from the crowd — a feature noticeably absent from the Democratic convention.

Trump has raised eyebrows throughout the week over his use of government tools to make his case for re-election, and the South Lawn setting seemed a provocation to his critics.

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"Gathered here at our beautiful and majestic White House — known all over the world as the people's house — we cannot help but marvel at the miracle that is our great American story," Trump said. "This has been the home of larger-than-life figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson who rallied Americans to bold visions of a bigger and brighter future."

Some have warned that members of the Trump administration could be at risk of violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in certain political activities. The president and the vice president are exempt from the law, but other White House employees are not.

Trump's speech was followed by a fireworks show near the Washington Monument, across the street from the White House complex. The Trump family was serenaded by a performance from opera signer Christopher Macchio, who performed classics such as "Ave Maria" from the White House balcony, as guests watched from their seats.

Trump spoke for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, the second-longest convention addresses in modern history, following his own speech in 2016, at 1 hour and 16 minutes.