WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump, accepting the Republican nomination for a second term, said on Thursday (Aug 27) that he alone stands as a bulwark against the forces of socialism, anarchy and extremism that his Democratic rival Joe Biden would champion if elected in November.
Speaking from the White House South Lawn despite criticism he was using the executive residence as a political prop, Trump asserted that a Biden victory would only worsen the crises besieging the country.
"This election will decide whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny," Trump said on the fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention.
"This election will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchic agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens."
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Trump delivered his remarks in front of more than 1,000 people, standing in front of dozens of American flags and basking in chants of "Four more years!" and "USA!"
Though an incumbent seeking a second four-year term, Trump remains a self-styled outsider, an approach that won him the White House, his first elected office, in 2016 on a promise to end the crime and violence he said was afflicting the country.
With the country reeling from the pandemic and a wave of anti-racism protests, several speakers on Thursday argued that state and city Democratic leaders, not the Trump administration, were to blame for the racial strife convulsing US cities, including Kenosha, Wisconsin, where this week police shot and paralysed a Black man.
"It is clear that a vote for Biden and the Democrats creates the risk that you will bring this lawlessnesss to your city, to your town, to your suburb," said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump confidant. Like other Republicans, Giuliani falsely accused Biden of embracing calls to "defund the police", a position the Democrat has rejected.
As the night unfolded, Biden struck back on Twitter, writing, "When Donald Trump says tonight you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America, look around and ask yourself: How safe do you feel in Donald Trump's America?"
The made-for-television scene - befitting the first reality TV host to serve as president - stood in marked contrast to Biden's acceptance speech last week, which was broadcast live from a largely empty arena in a nod to the disease.
The crowd, seated in white chairs inches apart, showed little evidence of social distancing or face masks despite health experts' recommendations.
The coronavirus prompted both political parties to scale back their conventions and make events mostly virtual. The Trump campaign said it had taken appropriate health precautions.
In a reminder of the country's divisions, attendees could hear anti-Trump protesters at nearby Black Lives Matter Plaza as he spoke.
MORE THAN 180,000 DEATHS
More than 180,000 people have died in the United States from the coronavirus - more than any other country, according to a Reuters tally - amid a fresh wave of protests over the latest high-profile police shooting of a Black American.
In Kenosha, relative calm returned after three nights of civil strife ending on Tuesday, including arson, vandalism and deadly shootings.
Trump, a former New York real estate developer, is seeking to turn around a re-election campaign that has been largely overshadowed by a health crisis that has put millions of Americans out of work.
In his speech on Thursday, Trump repeated his assertion that China is to blame for the pandemic and promised to rebuild what Republicans have called the "greatest economy" in history.
But opinion polls have shown most Americans are disappointed in his response to the coronavirus, which he played down for weeks.
While his approval rating among Republican voters remains high, dissent is mounting within the party.
In three open letters being published on Thursday and Friday, Biden won endorsements from more than 160 people who worked for Republican former President George W. Bush or for past Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain, the New York Times and Politico reported.
Earlier this week, 27 former Republican lawmakers endorsed Biden while the Lincoln Project, among the most prominent Republican-backed groups opposing Trump, said a former Republican Party head had joined it as a senior adviser.
Thursday's program aimed to counterbalance those defections, featuring a video showcasing former Democratic voters who say they now support Trump and remarks from US Representative Jeff Van Drew, who abandoned the Democratic Party to join the Republicans after voting against Trump's impeachment this year.
"Joe Biden is being told what to do by the radicals running my former party, the same radicals trying to install him as their puppet president," he said.
READ: US COVID-19 deaths exceed 180,000; Iowa and Minnesota see spikes in new cases
READ: White House must agree to more COVID-19 aid for talks to resume: Pelosi
The program also included several emotional appeals, including from the parents of Kayla Mueller, an aid worker who died after being held captive for months by Islamic State militants in Syria. The Mueller parents said they blamed the Obama administration for failing to rescue Mueller.
The Republican convention has attracted fewer television viewers than its Democratic counterpart on two of its three nights so far, including on Wednesday, according to early Nielsen Media Research.
A total of 17.3 million people watched the third night of the mostly virtual Republican National Convention on Wednesday, according to Nielsen, fewer than the 22.8 million viewers for the third night of last week's Democratic convention.
Trump kicked off the week on Monday by accusing Democrats of seeking to steal the election by advocating for mail-in voting. His previous high-profile speeches have also emphasized grim themes, including his inaugural address in January 2017 that described "American carnage".