President Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday night, breaking norms by doing so from a packed White House lawn during a pandemic.
But before he did, some of his lightning-rod aides got their turn in primetime programming, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Housing Secretary Ben Carson delivering forceful speeches on race as inequality protests rock the nation.
Here are the key moments from the Republican National Convention’s final night.
Maskless Trump supporters flood White House lawn
Ahead of the convention’s final night of programming, crowds of Trump supporters — the majority of whom appeared maskless — gathered on the White House South Lawn in anticipation of the president’s headliner address later in the evening.
The seating arrangement for Trump’s acceptance speech drew scrutiny on social media, especially for pictures of closely assembled white folding chairs that were in clear violation of social distancing guidance.
Roughly 1,500 spectators were in attendance as the convention was set to commence, according to a White House pool report, and most Republican members of Congress were invited.
POLITICO reported Thursday that guests at Trump’s speech would not be required to take a coronavirus test upon their arrival at the event. Guidance issued to the in-person audience encouraged them to stay home if they had recently experienced Covid-19 symptoms and to “practice social distancing whenever possible.”
The guidance also noted that guests must wear protective face coverings when arriving at the White House and in high traffic areas, but stated that they can eschew masks during Trump’s speech.
White House adviser Ja’Ron Smith defends Trump’s record on race
Ja’Ron Smith, a White House adviser and one of Trump’s most visible Black supporters, defended the president’s record on race in a speech that hit racial tensions head-on as new protests roiled the nation.
Smith praised Trump’s reaction to a series of murders of black men this year that prompted nationwide protests over racial injustice and police violence, calling out Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia, George Floyd of Minneapolis, and LeGend Taliferro of Kansas City by name.
At “a moment of national consciousness, I have seen his true conscience,” Smith said. “I just wish everyone could see the deep empathy he shows to families whose loved ones were killed in senseless violence.”
Trump has made it clear that police departments “with the highest standards” are key to safer communities, Smith said, in an implicit contrast to Democrats who Republicans accuse of wanting to do away with law enforcement.
Smith, who has been an assistant to the president for domestic policy since April 2019, shared his personal story of growing up with working-class parents, winning a spot on the varsity football team, but breaking his leg and realizing he had to work harder at school to succeed in life. Growing up, Smith said, he “had never really known a Republican,” and “believed all the stereotypes.”
“It took a meeting of Republicans who shared my values to show me I was wrong,” Smith said.
Smith also cited the president’s record on prison reform, job growth, and securing “record and permanent” funding for historically Black colleges and universities as evidence of his commitment to Black Americans.
“Donald Trump knows that in the work of revitalizing communities, America’s strength is America’s people. And I can tell you, he really cares. And he takes action,” Smith said.
McConnell warns against D.C. statehood
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his primetime address to defend the work of his Republican caucus and argue against statehood for Washington, D.C.
In a pre-recorded speech delivered from Louisville, Ky., the nation’s highest-ranking GOP lawmaker called the November election “incredibly consequential for middle America” and leaned into Trump’s culture-based attacks on Democrats.
“They want to tell you what kind of car you can drive. What sources of information are credible. And even how many hamburgers you can eat,” he said.
Continuing to condemn Democratic policy priorities, McConnell asserted that lawmakers from the opposing party “want to codify all this by making the swamp itself, Washington, D.C., America’s 51st state. With two more liberal senators, we cannot undo the damage they’ve done.”
In a historic vote two months ago, the Democratic-controlled House approved legislation to grant statehood to the District of Columbia — the first time either chamber of Congress has agreed to give congressional representation to the nation’s capital.
Wife of killed police officer hits ‘callous’ protestors
Ann Dorn, the wife of a retired police captain killed during looting in St. Louis, delivered an emotional recounting of her husband’s death and said Trump knows how to heal a country she depicted as beset by violence.
“How did we get to this point where so many young people are callous and indifferent towards human lives?” she said. “Violence and destruction are not legit forms of protest. They do not safeguard Black lives, they only destroy them.”
She and other speakers have attempted to tie the Biden-Harris ticket to what they say is increasing lawlessness in big cities during racial equality protests.
“We must heal before we can affect change,” she said. “We can’t heal in devastation and chaos. We need to come together in peace and remember that every life is precious.”
Ben Carson defends Trump on charges of racism
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson paused during remarks at the Republican National Convention Thursday night to extend his support to the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday.
“Our hearts go out to the Blake family and the other families who’ve been impacted by the tragic events in Kenosha,” Carson said at the start of his primetime speech.
Carson, the only Black member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, is the highest official in the Trump administration to specifically mention Blake, whose shooting sparked both protests and violence in Kenosha this week.
Carson went on to defend Trump’s record on Black issues, saying Trump — whose recent appeals to suburban voters that he’ll protect them from an invasion of low-income housing have drawn criticism for their racial undertones — does “not dabble in identity politics.”
“Many on the other side love to incite division by claiming that President Tump is a racist,” Carson said. “They could not be more wrong. Years ago, Jesse Jackson gave Donald Trump an award for the economic opportunities he created for Black people.”
Cotton links Biden to China in hardline speech
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) delivered a hardline anti-China speech, saying the ruling Communist Party is “rooting” for Biden.
Cotton, among the leading anti-China voices in the Senate, said Biden has “aided and abetted China’s rise for 50 years with terrible trade deals that closed our factories and laid off our workers.”
“Joe Biden allowed Chinese fentanyl to flood over our southern border,” Cotton said, referring to a key route for the synthetic heroin whose use has continued during the Trump administration. “President Trump sanctioned Chinese drug dealers for poisoning our kids.”
And Cotton, who has accused China — without evidence — of “deliberate actions” to spread the coronavirus, hit Biden for downplaying conflict with Beijing.
“Biden said Chinese Communists aren’t even our competitors, aren’t bad folks, just months before they unleashed this plague on the world,” he said.
Cotton’s speech builds on recent comments from Trump and RNC speakers that the U.S. could seek to weaken economic ties with China if the president is reelected. But as trade experts and American firms told POLITICO this week, that could come with huge costs for the domestic economy.
Giuliani says Trump can ‘make our nation safe again’
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, condemned crime in U.S. cities governed by Democrats during his Republican National Convention address.
“Don’t let Democrats do to America what they have done to New York,” he urged voters in a primetime speech that relied heavily on explosive rhetoric and violent imagery.
Giuliani repeatedly referenced what he described as an “unprecedented wave of lawlessness” that have accompanied widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice — echoing the Trump campaign’s efforts to stoke fears of rioters in communities across the country.
Giuliani also cast aspersions on the Black Lives Matter movement, saying it “sprang into action” with antifa — a loosely defined group of “anti-fascitst” radical activists — “and in a flash, they hijacked the peaceful protests into vicious, brutal riots.”
“Businesses were burned and crushed. People beaten, shot and killed. Police officers routinely assaulted, badly beaten and occasionally murdered,” he said. “ And the police handcuffed by progressive Democrat mayors from doing anything but observe the crimes and absorb the blows.”
Parents of ISIS hostage: ‘Kayla would still be alive’ if Trump had been president
The parents of Kayla Mueller, an aid worker who was killed by the Islamic State in 2015, blamed the Obama administration for her death and said their daughter would still be alive today if Trump had been in charge.
“Our government let us down,” said Carl Mueller, whose daughter endured torture and rape at the hands of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for more than a year before her death.
“Let me just say this: Kayla should be here,” Mueller said. “If Donald Trump had been president when Kayla was captured, she would be here today.”
The Muellers accused the Obama administration of inaction, saying that the former president “refused to meet with us until ISIS had already beheaded other Americans,” and that “to this day, we’ve never heard from Joe Biden.”
The military prepared an operation to rescue Kayla, but Obama’s White House delayed it, Mueller said. By the time it went forward, the terrorists had moved his daughter to a different location, he said. “The administration showed more concern for the terrorists in Guantanamo than for the American hostages in Syria,” Mueller said.
The Obama administration “kept us from negotiating to save Kayla’s life,” leaving the Muellers feeling hopeless, he said.
Obama has said he was “heartbroken” by the news of the aid worker’s death after the unsuccessful rescue mission, but maintained his stance against paying ransom for American hostages, even if it goes against their families’ wishes.
The Trump administration, by contrast, “gave us empathy we never received from the Obama administration,” Mueller said, noting that the U.S. Army special forces operators who killed al-Baghdadi named their unit “Task Force 814” after Kayla’s birthday, and their mission “Operation Kayla Mueller.”
“The Obama administration said it was doing everything it could. The Trump administration actually is,” Mueller said.
Alice Johnson talks of Trump’s ‘compassion’
In a passionate speech, Alice Johnson, the Memphis woman whose life sentence Trump commuted in 2018, spoke of the president’s “compassion” as she commended his administration’s efforts on criminal justice reform.
“We’ve all made mistakes. None of us want to be defined forever based on our worst decision,” Johnson said. “While in prison, I became a playwright, a mentor, a certified hospice volunteer, an ordained minister, and received the Special Olympics event coordinator of the year award for my work with disabled women.”
Johnson had been in prison over two decades when Trump commuted her sentence in June 2018 at the urging of Kim Kardashian West.
“My transformation was described as extraordinary,” Johnson said. “Truth is, there are thousands of people just like me who deserve the opportunity to come home.”
Ivanka Trump to President Trump: ‘I love you for being real’
White House adviser Ivanka Trump praised her father for “being real” in a Republican National Convention address that sought to play down President Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric and divisive policies over the previous four years.
“Tonight, I stand before you as the proud daughter of the people’s president,” Ivanka told a packed-in audience of roughly 1,500 supporters on the White House South Lawn, minutes before her father delivered his convention acceptance speech.
Offering generic criticism of the nation’s capital as dysfunctional and slow-moving, Ivanka explained that her father “did not come to Washington to win praise from the Beltway elites.”
And although the president has “strong convictions,” Ivanka said, “you always know where he stands.”
“I recognize that my dad’s communication style is not to everyone’s taste. And I know that his tweets can feel a bit unfiltered,” she added. “But the results — the results speak for themselves.”
Ivanka is the latest member of the president’s family who have attempted during the four-night GOP convention to smooth over his rougher edges and cast him in more personal terms.
“Dad, people attack you for being unconventional,” she said. “But I love you for being real, and I respect you for being effective.”
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