Well, no-one could accuse Donald Trump of pinching his speech from an Obama. Over an hour-and-a-quarter on Thursday night he set out a dark vision of a crime-ridden America crumbling from neglect, and where decent people live in fear of immigrants and corrupt politicians. And he accepted the Republican nomination in much the same way that he won it, with anger and contempt for his opponents. Above all it was a speech based on fear. It offered Trump as the saviour, the one man who could save the country.
These were the main takeaways:
1. Trump is angry. He dialled it all up to ten in the first few minutes and then kept it there. Love him or hate him, Trump’s speeches are often funny, irreverent and entertaining. This was nothing of the sort. Has there ever been an acceptance speech without a joke? This was layer upon layer of vitriol.
Freddy Gray and Scott McConnell discuss the American tragedy with Isabel Hardman:
2. One for the fact-checkers. Trump rattled through the statistics but many were suspect. He said killings had risen 50 per cent in Washington DC. In fact, they are down nine per cent so far this year. His figures for the trade deficit were about 300 billion dollars too high. Does that matter? Probably not. It reinforces the view of a broad swath of America where life is getting tougher.
3. The tone was dark. Very dark. Even though crime figures show America is much safer than it was in the early 1990s, Trump portrayed a country in the grip of a violent crisis. He talked of ‘chaos in our communities’ and ‘a moment of danger’. After a spate of cop-slayings and apparently Isil-inspired attacks, it is a message that resonated in the hall.
4. He gave a stab at inclusivity. Before the speech, many Republicans told me it was time for Trump to start reaching out to ethnic minorities or people who might not normally think of voting Republican. In his speech, he promised to protect the LGBTQ community from terrorism after the attack on the Pulse night club in Florida (one of the biggest cheers of the night, despite some discussion among delegates about what the Q might stand for) and talked about how immigration and economic failure was affecting black and Latino populations.
5. But there was still little meat on the bones. Trust in Trump and the policies will take care of themselves, seems to be the main message. As one delegate put it as she left the arena: ‘There was no explanation about how he was going to do any of this.’ That remains a problem for the political novice.
So, where does this all leave Trump’s campaign to win the White House? Although headlines have emphasised splits within the Republican party, delegates say the discord has been only a minor distraction and that the convention has felt more energised than last time around when the candidate was Mitt Romney. Trump remains the outsider against Clinton’s slick campaign to be sure. And his positioning as the law and order candidate has provoked distaste along with accusations that he is politicising a string of recent murders of police officers.
That could all easily be forgotten. For the mood in America is dark. Trump is unleashing powerful forces and all he needs is a major terrorist attack or another spate of cop killings for voters to turn to the strongman who says he can be America’s saviour. What a frightening thought.