Pompeo stressed he will be speaking in a personal capacity and the State Department says no tax dollars will be used.
The Republican Party has formally nominated United States President Donald Trump for a second term in the White House – one of the first acts of the first day of the Republican National Convention (RNC) that saw both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence speak in person in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Just 336 delegates gathered in a convention centre in the city for a roll call Monday morning to nominate Trump as the party’s candidate to take on Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Earlier in the day, the delegates – who numbered over 2,400 during the 2016 convention – nominated Vice President Mike Pence.
“We fish, we hunt, and we have at least five guns in every home,” said Montana Republican Party Chairman Don Kaltschmidt, who cast 27 votes for Trump as he declared the state temporarily “Trumptana”.
“We love the second amendment and we love Donald Trump,” he said.
Minutes after the votes passed the threshold that officially cemented Trump as the candidate, the president made a surprise appearance, walking on stage to chants of “four more years, four more years”.
“If you want to really drive them crazy, say 12 more years,” Trump said, before launching into a speech that continually came back to accusations that Democrats are trying “to steal” the election through increased mail-in voting and other means – accusations that are being called baseless by Trump’s opponents.
— Montana Republican Party (@MTGOP) August 24, 2020
The president hailed November’s vote as the “most important election in our history”, while touting the country’s economic strength before the coronavirus pandemic, which he referred to as the “plague that came from China”. He also derided Biden and prominent Democrats for not visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin during their convention there last week.
During his wide-ranging speech, Trump added he felt a “responsibility” to visit North Carolina, accusing the state’s Democratic governor of politically imposing coronavirus restrictions on the convention, which saw the bulk of event plans briefly moved to Jacksonville, Florida – then saw the nomination moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and subsequent events moved to Washington, DC.
“I guarantee on November 4 it’ll all open up,” he said, referring to the day after the election. “You know these Democrat governors – they love to shut down until after the election is over because they want to make our numbers look as bad as possible for the economy. But our numbers are looking so good.”
The president’s early appearance set the tone for a convention that will seek to rebut the Democratic National Convention, held almost completely digitally last week in light of the coronavirus pandemic, while energising the party’s base amid a slump in polls.
The roll call contained some of the usual trappings of a convention, including signs designating each state and gift bags stuffed with Republican swag.
But chairs on the ballroom floor were arranged with lots of space between them and convention organisers told participants to wear masks, although adherence to that rule was uneven.
“We are obviously disappointed we could not hold this event in the same way we had originally planned,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said as she began the proceedings while thanking Charlotte for allowing the convention to move forward in its truncated form.
The party also unanimously voted to forgo forging a new 2020 Republican platform during the gathering. A party resolution instead proclaimed: “Resolved: That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda”.
The roll call and speeches served as a precursor to Monday’s main programming from 8:30pm (00:30 GMT) to 11pm (03:00 GMT), centred around the theme “land of promise”, which is set to feature several prominent Republican legislators, including the party’s only Black senator.
Also set to speak are Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a St Louis, Missouri couple who were photographed brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters during a march that passed by their home.
Other highlighted citizens on the first night are Tanya Weinreis, a Montana coffee shop owner whose business and employee’s livelihoods were saved by the federal coronavirus relief Paycheck Protection Program, and Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the 2018 Parkland Florida, school shooting.
Beginning what will be four days of prominent appearances by Trump family members, Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, and his son’s girlfriend and Trump fundraiser, Kimberly Guilfoyle, are also set to speak on Monday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to address the convention with a video message taped in Jerusalem, defying decades of precedent that the nation’s chief diplomat stays out of domestic politics in an election year.
The week will culminate in the president’s acceptance of the party’s nomination on Thursday on the South Lawn of the White House.
Pence, who spoke shortly before Trump during the roll call, summed up what are expected to be the overarching themes of the next four days.
“I heard the other day that democracy is on the ballot,” Pence said, referring to Democratic messaging that Trump’s presidency presents an existential threat to the country.
“I think we all know the economy is on the ballot,” he added. “Law and order is on the ballot. Our most cherished ideals of freedom and free markets are on the ballot.”
“We’re gonna make America great again, again,” Pence said.