CLEVELAND — Donald Trump will formally accept the Republican nomination for president on Thursday night, and give the biggest speech of his short political career — seeking some way to end a troubled, fractious GOP convention on a high note.
The last night of the convention got underway at 7:30 p.m., with Trump scheduled to go on shortly after 10. The night’s earlier speakers will include Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), tech billionaire Peter Thiel and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who will introduce him.
The prepared text of Trump’s remarks, released ahead of his speech, shows he will paint a dire and frightening vision of an America besieged by hostile forces abroad and unrest at home – and cast Hillary Clinton, his presumptive Democratic opponent, as unfit to face those dire times.
“The forgotten men and women of our country, people who work hard but no longer have a voice: I am your voice,” Trump was set to say, according to the prepared remarks.
Ahead of Trump’s speech Thursday night, Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of the famous evangelist and the president of Virginia’s Liberty University, described Trump as a “blue-collar billionaire.”
“We are at a crossroads, where our first priority must be saving our nation,” Falwell said, foreshadowing the somber tone of Trump’s coming speech. He told the crowd that a decision to not vote, or to vote for a third-party candidate, was a de facto vote for Clinton. Falwell said that, were Clinton able to appoint new liberal justices to the Supreme Court, the consequences could be devastating: “A fatal blow to our republic.” He did not explain exactly how the court would bring that disaster.
Falwell also recalled a joke told by his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., in which the elder Falwell dreamed that he told Chelsea Clinton – daughter of Hillary – that the three greatest threats to America were “Osama, Obama and Yo’ Mama,” Falwell said.
“Well, Osama is now gone,” he said, meaning Osama bin Laden. “Obama has six months left in his term. And the only way to make America great and one again is to tell Chelsea’s mama, ‘You’re fired.’”
Mark Burns, a South Carolina pastor who supports Trump, gave a raucous, revival-style speech, in which he led the crowd in shouting “All lives matter!” — a rejoinder to the Black Lives Matter movement. “All lives matter!” the crowd shouted.
“Let ‘em know!” Burns said.
“All lives matter!”
”Push it!” Burns said.
He finished by leading the crowd in another yell. “Shout! Truuuuuump!” Burns said.
Burns drew attention during the primary campaign when he said that Democratic contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, “gotta get saved, gotta meet Jesus.”
Other convention speakers have largely avoided talking about one of Trump’s most important – -and controversial – policy ideas, the construction of a wall on the southern border. But Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an outspoken critic of immigration policies, mentioned the plan in his address Thursday: “Donald Trump will build the wall!”
The crowd immediately started a chant, interrupting Arpaio: “Build that wall! Build that wall!”
Trump’s speech i s expected to lay out stark differences between his agenda and Clinton’s. In his prepared remarks, he asserted that the likely Democratic nominee was a “puppet” of corporations and elites, and that she would “keep our rigged system in place.”
Trump also blamed Clinton directly for the past decade and a half of turmoil in the Middle East and cast the former secretary of state as a favor-trading, self-enriching agent of foreign powers.
“This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: Death, destruction and weakness,” Trump said in the prepared remarks. “But Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy.”
In virtually every policy realm, Trump vowed to put the country’s interests before any other — redirecting Washington’s gaze inward in an age of globalization.
“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump said in the prepared remarks. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect. This will all change in 2017. The American people will come first once again.”
Trump’s acceptance speech, the culmination of the evening, will offer a chance to unify a convention that — so far — has seemed stuck halfway between the old party that he shook up, and a new party that has been remade in Trump’s outsider image.
Speakers have extolled the value of overseas alliances; offstage, Trump told the New York Times he might not defend NATO allies from invasion. And the big ideas that brought Trump success on the campaign trail — a border wall, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, a temporary ban on Muslim immigration — have received little attention from most speakers.
In one sign of the discordant messages of Trump’s convention, a speech on Thursday night by Anthony Perkins of the Family Research Council – a leading voice for Christian morals in public life — was followed, a few minutes later, by the house band playing AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
Wednesday night’s program was dominated by a show of defiance from Trump’s top rival. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pointedly refused to endorse Trump in his prime-time speech — urging Republicans instead to “vote your conscience.” Cruz’s speech ended under a chorus of boos.
In Thursday night’s speech, Trump will have both a prime opportunity to move beyond that primary fight — and reach out to a general-election audience skeptical of Clinton.
But the same speech will also offer Trump a prime chance to return to that old primary fight, and bash Cruz before an unprecedented audience.
In the past, he has struggled to overcome that temptation. That continued Thursday.
“Other than a small group of people who have suffered massive and embarrassing losses, the party is VERY united. Great love in the arena!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
On the same day, Cruz defended his decision not to honor a pledge he made last year to honor the eventual nominee, whomever it may be. “The day that was abrogated was the day this became personal,” he said. “I’m not going to get into criticizing or attacking Donald Trump, but I’ll just give you this response: I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father.”
During the primary, Trump re-tweeted a message that insulted the appearance of Cruz’s wife, and he gave voice to utterly unsubstantiated theories that Cruz’s father was connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Cruz’s speech on Wednesday smashed attempts by many Republican leaders to present a united party capable of taking on the Democrats in November. And it significantly distracted efforts to appeal to persuadable voters.
Seeking to curb the resistance to Trump, speaker after speaker has pleaded this week for skeptical Republicans to consider that the alternative is a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“After a long and spirited primary, the time for fighting each other is over,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another defeated primary foe. “It’s time to come together and fight for a new direction for America. It’s time to win in November.” But Rubio spoke via video, having decided to avoid the convention.
Surrogates for the Trump campaign sought to play down the conflict with Cruz — even as Trump drew attention to it on social media — in order to call for party unity.
“I think what you’re seeing is a party that’s coming together,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, said during an interview on Fox News. “There’s always going to be differences and nuances in the way people express that. But what I sensed in that hall the last several days, and especially last night, is a Republican Party that is coming together around the stakes of this election.”
If there is a unifying force among Republicans, it is their strong desire to defeat Clinton.
“There’s a lot of diversity in our party, and that’s a strength of our Republican Party,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. “I have a lot of respect for Ted Cruz. But I’ve made the choice that I’m all in to defeat Hillary Clinton, and everyone should be all in to defeat Hillary Clinton.”
As happened during the first two days of the convention, the hall broke into calls of “Lock her up!” on Wednesday when those onstage referred to the controversy over Clinton’s unauthorized use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
Several of the speakers dwelled less on painting a relentlessly negative portrayal of the state of the country and more on framing the choice that will confront voters in the fall on national security, the economy and the future of the Supreme Court, among other things. The anxiety and urgency voters feel on those issues are at the core of Trump’s campaign, and effective messaging on those themes could broaden the party’s appeal among independence.
But there was also the lingering drama from the Monday address by Trump’s wife, Melania, which included portions lifted from the speech Michelle Obama gave at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
In a statement issued using the Trump Organization letterhead and not the campaign insignia, a staff member took responsibility for the insertion of the material and apologized. She said that she offered to resign but that Trump and his family encouraged her to stay.
Meredith McIver said she was an “in-house staff writer” who worked on the speech.
“A person she has always liked is Michelle Obama,” McIver said of Melania Trump. “Over the phone, she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech.”
Shortly before the campaign distributed McIver’s statement, Trump addressed the controversy via Twitter, although he did not weigh in on allegations that his wife had borrowed language from the first lady’s speech. Multiple commentators and Trump opponents have said the duplication of the phrases amounts to plagiarism.
“Good news is Melania’s speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!” he wrote in one message. And he attempted to shift blame to Clinton, writing, “The media is spending more time doing a forensic analysis of Melania’s speech than the FBI spent on Hillary’s emails.”