Donald Trump claimed the mantle of the Republican candidate for the White House with a highly charged speech in which he promised to be “the voice” of disenfranchised Americans and the guardian of “law and order” as president.
“Friends, delegates and fellow Americans, I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States,” Mr Trump said to raucous chants of “USA, USA, USA” from the Republican convention delegates in the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“Every day I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been ignored, neglected and abandoned,” Mr Trump said in a prime-time speech that lasted for more than an hour.
“These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am your voice.”
In a speech that supporters in the convention hall described as an honest depiction of the state of America but that Hillary Clinton’s campaign said was a “dark picture”, Mr Trump repeated many of the themes that have driven his populist campaign: illegal immigration, global trade, corporate corruption, violence towards police officers and the rise of radical Islamist terrorism.
He also refused to apologise for his blunt message, saying that, “I will present the facts plainly and honestly”.
“We cannot afford to be politically correct any more,” said Mr Trump, resurrecting one of the core themes of the anti-establishment movement that has propelled the New York property developer one more step closer to the White House.
Training his sights on Mrs Clinton, Mr Trump described his White House rival as a puppet who would maintain the status quo. “Things have to change, and they have to change right now. Big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent because they know she will keep our rigged system in place”.
He also pitched himself as the “law and order” candidate, following the recent rise in attacks on police in the US.
An instant poll of the overall reaction to Mr Trump’s speech conducted by CNN/ORC found that 57 per cent were “very positive” and 18 per cent were “somewhat positive”, while it had a “negative effect” on 24 per cent of those polled.
Mr Trump’s formal acceptance of the nomination marked an astounding achievement that almost no member of the political establishment and pundit class believed was possible when he first rode down the escalator at Trump Tower in New York to launch an unorthodox campaign with a message that he would “Make America Great Again”.
“Our plan will put America First. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Mr Trump repeated on Thursday. “The American people will come first once again. My plan will begin with safety at home, which means safe neighbourhoods, secure borders and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order.”
Stressing the need to tackle Islamist terrorism, Mr Trump said the US would “defeat the barbarians of Isis and we are going to defeat them now”.
He also retreated from a proposal to ban all Muslims from the US, saying he would suspend immigration from nations that were “compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place”.
He attacked Mrs Clinton on her record as secretary of state, saying that she would continue a policy that would allow potential terrorists to enter the US. Referring to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East, he said the legacy of Mrs Clinton was “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness”.
Many Republicans, including his supporters and detractors, had urged Mr Trump to reach across to groups whose support he will need to beat Mrs Clinton, particularly those that he insulted during the primary race. While he extended no big olive branches — including to Hispanics — he voiced support for various constituencies including the gay community.
Following the recent attack in Orlando, he said he would “do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology”.
Tony Fratto, a former top Republican official in the administration of George W Bush, said the speech was the “darkest, most negative acceptance speech of a major party” that he had heard in his lifetime.
“Trump’s anti-immigration, antitrade rants are further dividing the party. He continues to double-down on a narrow, nativist, xenophobic segment of the electorate, at a time when he needed to try to expand his appeal,” said Mr Fratto. “The Republican Party today is an incoherent coalition with opposite views on key policy issues. It feels tonight like the GOP’s place as a national party is coming to an end.”
Earlier in the evening, Mr Trump was introduced by his daughter Ivanka Trump who attempted to cast him in a more personal light, and bolster his image among women and minorities. “He is colour blind and gender neutral. He hires the best person for the job”. Mr Trump had women on his construction site “before it was commonplace”, she said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives.”
During the week, the Trump campaign has taken pains to introduce voters to women close to Mr Trump, including his wife, daughters and female employees, in an attempt to counteract previous controversies such as the insults he had hurled at the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and comedian Rosie O’Donnell.
Ms Trump said her father would close the wage gap between men and women, and change labour laws to help working mothers. “Equal pay for equal work,” she said, echoing Mrs Clinton. She also made a play for undecided voters, particularly younger ones, saying that as a “millennial” she was not “categorically Republican or Democrat”.
Speaking on Fox News after the speech, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House who had been in contention to become Mr Trump’s running mate, said the businessman did a “very, very good job”.
Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia professor who has attended every national party convention since 1976, said Mr Trump was following a similar path to Richard Nixon. “It’s like I closed my eyes and awoke back in 1968. This is Richard Nixon’s ‘law and order’ campaign. Nixon was focusing on antiwar and civil rights demonstrations, while Trump is citing illegal immigration and police shootings.”
Mr Trump ended his speech, which lasted a record 75 minutes, with a variation of his signature campaign mantra that sparked a long standing ovation. “To all Americans . . . I make this promise: We will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. We will make America great again.”
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