Harris launches her first major attack on the president hours before his address to the virtual Republican convention.
President Donald Trump criticised his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, as “weak” and drew sharp divisions between what Republicans envision for the United States and what he said Democrats advocate, as he rounded up his party’s national convention and staked his claim for a second term in office.
“Our opponents believe America is a depraved nation. We want our sons and daughters to know the truth; America is the most exceptional nation in the history of the world,” Trump said in remarks to a live audience at the White House.
In the midst of a pandemic that is still ravaging the US, Trump defied public health guidelines to assemble an audience of 2,000 guests who largely did not maintain physical distancing or wear masks at an event staged on the South Lawn of the White House.
To their applause, Trump claimed his signature accomplishments in four years; building the wall on the southwest US border, ending undocumented immigration, lowering medicine prices, renegotiating trade deals, cutting taxes and creating jobs.
Trump asserted success in combating the coronavirus and he attacked Biden in hyperbolic terms for his plans to raise taxes, switch the US to clean energy, reform US immigration laws, and tackle the coronavirus.
“Joe Biden’s plan is not a solution to the virus. It is a surrender to the virus,” Trump said.
Biden is “a Trojan horse for socialism” who would “demolish the suburbs” and “confiscate your guns”, Trump claimed.
Biden “promised to end national security travel bans from Jihadist nations”, Trump said, a reference to his own controversial ban on travel to the US from a number of predominately Muslim countries.
Biden would abolish cash bail “releasing 400,000 criminals” into US neighbourhoods, and pave the way for the “radical left” to “defund police departments”, he said. The claim is a distortion of Biden’s latest proposal to reform the US bail system, which discriminates against poor people by holding them in jail.
In a 70-minute speech, Trump directed his most bombastic rhetoric at condemning the civil unrest and racial protests embroiling the country. “There is violence and danger in the streets,” Trump said.
“If the Democrat Party wants to stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag burners, that is up to them. But I, as your president, will not be a part of it. The Republican Party will remain the voice of the patriotic heroes who keep America safe and salute the American flag.”
The latest civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin and elsewhere in the US was a key focus of Republican speakers on Thursday. They argued vehemently that riots in US cities run by Democrats foreshadow a lawless future for the nation if Trump is not re-elected.
Keith Whittington, professor of politics at Princeton University, said Trump was trying to shift blame for the pandemic and the protests to others, a challenging political task but one that could yield gains as his re-election campaign kicks into gear over the next 10 weeks.
“The Trump administration is tied-up in some of the policy responses to the economy and the pandemic such that he cannot very easily distance himself from that and say this is somebody else’s fault,” Whittington said.
But, “in the context of the rioting in the cities, he has a little bit more credibility in being able to say other government officials have primary responsibility for this, they have not been doing a good enough job,” Whittington told Al Jazeera.
Several Republican speakers in Thursday’s largely virtual convention programme defended Trump’s hostile approach towards the Black Lives Matter protests.
“President Trump does not dabble in identity politics,” said Ben Carson, Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
“He wants everyone to succeed and believes in the adage, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. Many on the other side love to incite division by claiming that President Trump is a racist,” Carson said.
“They could not be more wrong.”
Ann Dorn, the widow of Dave Dorn, a retired St Louis police officer and security guard who was killed by looters during protests in June, gave a heartfelt tribute to her late husband.
“Looters were ransacking the shop. They shot and killed Dave in cold blood and livestreamed the execution and his last moments on earth,” Dorn recalled.
“How did we get to this point where so many young people are so callous and indifferent towards human life? This isn’t a video game where you can commit mayhem and then hit reset,” she said.
“Democrats have walked away from us,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York City.
“You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America. You can have four more years of President Trump. Or you can have no safety, no justice, no peace.”
Former New York City Mayor and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani warned Democrats would do to the nation what they have already done to New York if Biden is elected.
“Murders, shootings and violent crime are increasing at percentages unheard of in the past,” Giuliani said.
Outside the White House grounds on Thursday night, protesters gathered on “Black Lives Matter plaza” near Lafayette Park. Air horns could be heard briefly blaring in the background of Trump’s speech.
Demonstrators unfurled a flag that said, “Trump Lies All the Time” and skirmished with a small group of Trump supporters before being separated by police, according to reports.
Many had travelled to Washington, DC, to participate in Friday’s scheduled ‘March on Washington’ for racial justice; an event that is expected to draw thousands.
Earlier in the day, Biden criticised Trump’s rhetorical attacks on protesters and said Trump was encouraging racial divisions in the US to help his re-election campaign. Biden pinned responsibility for the unrest on Trump, the incumbent.
“He views this as a political benefit to him. He’s rooting for more violence,” Biden said on MSNBC, a liberal-leaning television news outlet.
“He’s encouraging this. He’s not diminishing it at all. This is his America now,” Biden said.
In a speech on Thursday, hours before Trump’s address, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris offered a scathing critique of Trump’s performance in office.
Trump has shown “a reckless disregard for the wellbeing of the American people” in failing to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, Harris said.
“Donald Trump froze. He was scared. He was petty and vindictive,” she said of the president’s early response to the outbreak in the US.
The Republican convention’s final night was capped with a flourish of fireworks that spelled out “Trump 2020” over the Washington monument on the National Mall, the long grassy park that stretches from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Opera singer Christopher Macchio sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria from the balcony of the White House residence to Trump and his family gathered on the stage in front of the audience, giving the evening a classical finish.