Trump plays to America’s fears as ‘law and order’ candidate

Republican presidential nominee reiterates pledge to build anti-immigration wall

Billionaire property mogul and reality-TV star Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland on Thursday night, declaring himself "the law and order candidate".

The New York businessman’s speech on the final night of the party national convention capped a remarkable rise for the man written off 13 months ago when he declared his candidacy.

“Friends, delegates and fellow Americans, I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States,” he told tens of thousands of cheering supporters in Ohio.

Mr Trump is the first presidential nominee for a major political party not to have held public office since Dwight Eisenhower who topped the Republican ticket in 1952.


In an acceptance speech lasting an extraordinary 76 minutes, the Manhattan-based businessman painted a bleak portrait of the United States as a country plagued by lawlessness and threatened by terrorism, playing on the fears of voters who backed him in such large numbers in the primary.

The billionaire spoke directly to blue-collar Americans who felt ignored, describing them as “the forgotten men and women of our country — people who work hard but no longer have a voice”.

“I am your voice,” he said, a proclamation he used twice.

In his speech, televised to tens of millions of Americans watching the party’s quadrennial pageant at home, Mr Trump said that the country was facing “a moment of crisis,” with attacks on police and “terrorism in our cities” threatening “our very way of life”.

He continued down the unorthodox path he has taken in his year-long campaign by refusing to pivot to the centre with a traditional softer speech that might have won over new supporters.

Instead, this was a sombre speech with lofty promises that rounded off a tumultuous four-day convention that did little to patch up internal party differences created by his polarising campaign.

Echoing the heavy themes of Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign during a time of civil and racial unrest, Mr Trump repeated and at times intensified the divisive rhetoric of his primary election campaign, targeting immigrants and refugees over an alleged threat of violence that they pose.

“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities,” he said, renewing one of his controversial pledges to some of the loudest rounds of applause of the night.

Mr Trump’s speech was briefly interrupted by veteran protester Medea Benjamin who shouted and waved a banner that read, “BUILD BRIDGES NOT WALLS,” attacking his plan to build a wall on US southern border with Mexico.

The businessman seized the moment back from her by praising the police who escorted her from the arena.

His address contrasted sharply with the cheery introduction of his daughter Ivanka (34) who called her father “the people’s champion” and attempted to broaden his appeal by describing him as someone who from “outside of the system” could only bring real change.

Mr Trump’s focus was firmly on reassuring Americans with the promise of a hardened response to the racially tinged violence against police in Dallas and Baton Rouge and the terror attacks in Orlando, San Bernardino, Boston and on the World Trade Centre in New York.

“I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored,” said Mr Trump, referring to the date the next president will move into the Oval Office.

“The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.”

He promised to “put America first” and ripped into his presumptive Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and her “legacy of death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” adding that “Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy.”

“Let’s defeat her in November,” he shouted, as his supporters around the Quicken Loans Arena chanted, “Lock her up!” the unofficial rallying call of the Republican delegates in Cleveland this week.

He cast Mrs Clinton, who will formally become her party’s nominee at their national convention in Philadelphia next week, as a “puppet” of big business and corporate donors who was unwilling to changed a “rigged” system and himself as the outsider who can challenge the status quo.

“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves,” he said.

The troubled country he described could only be repaired by him, he said.

“Nobody knows the system better than me,” he said, in his characteristic boastful manner, smirking, as he played for laughs from the audience, “which is why I alone can fix it”.

He set out his vision for a more inward-looking United States, framing his economic and foreign policies around a domestic focus in an age of globalisation.

“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he said. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America first, then we can be assured that our nations will not treat America with respect — the respect that we deserve. The American people will come first once again.”

He sought common ground with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — a candidate who, like Mr Trump, shook up the political establishment, but on the Democratic side — saying that he had seen how the system was “rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders”.

“He never had a chance,” said Mr Trump.

At the end of his address, the tough-talking businessman, with a sweaty face from the strain of frequently shouting for more than an hour, was joined on stage by his family as balloons fell from the roof engulfing the convention floor in the tradition of these four-yearly political shows.

Responding to the businessman’s speech, Mrs Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta said that Mr Trump had “painted a dark picture of an America in decline.”

“And his answer — more fear, more division, more anger and more hate — was yet another reminder that he is temperamentally unfit and totally disqualified to be president,” he said.

Others thought differently. Congressman Trent Franks from Arizona, on the convention floor, standing near his delegation, described the speech as “the best he has ever done”.

"I think it will play in middle America and I think it will lead him to the White House by the grace of God," he told The Irish Times.

“I think he touched on the things that will bring unity on the party.”

Phil Wright, chairman of the delegation from Utah, a state that voted for Trump’s bitter rival, Texas senator Ted Cruz, acknowledged that the businessman energised the crowd but said that he would have to show how he can fulfill his ambitious promises.

“He made phenomenal claims of what he is going to do to change the country. It is my hope over the next several weeks that he can start showing a plan of how he is going to do these things,” he said.

He felt that Mr Trump could also have done more to appeal to Republicans alienated by his campaign.

“I really had hoped that he had said more about bringing the party together... I’d really hoped that I was going to hear him to say more about bringing all of us together,” he said, as red, white and blue balloons and confetti fell from the rafters.

An ecstatic Jen Rae Wand, from Nebaska, thought it was a “great speech” that dealt with the “core values and principles” that unite Republicans as a party.

“There were parts of this speech in particular that I think would reach out and help people to recognise that we want to include more Americans in our party moving forward and help to make America great again,” she said, mentioning Mr Trump’s slogan that he ended his speech with.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent