President Donald Trump asked Americans to reelect him for four more years Thursday night, promising to restore the nation's struggling economy to record prosperity, rewriting history on his handling of the pandemic and warning that Joe Biden would be a "Trojan horse" for the radical left wing in America.
While the political setting on the South Lawn of the White House shattered all the norms and traditions of American political history, it was a surprisingly flat speech from the President that echoed many of the same promises and attacks as four years ago -- promises to repair the economy, protect the country from Democrats and socialism, ripping into the Washington establishment, bemoaning protests of police violence in the nation's cities and criticizing his opponent's long record -- with Biden taking the place of 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.
While Trump ran through a litany of accomplishments from his first term, the address recycled many lines and themes from other speeches and political events this summer and lacked the energy and soaring pageantry of the speakers over the previous three nights of the Republican National Convention.
While many of the speakers before the President had tried to humanize him and portray him as a caring and compassionate figure, he glossed over the pain and grief that many Americans have felt during the pandemic and economic collapse. At one point during his speech, he went so far as to mock Biden's empathy, which had been a big focus of the Democratic National Convention last week, during a critique of opponent's record on trade.
He argued that a Biden administration would lead to "mob rule" in Democrat-run cities and said that "if Joe Biden doesn't have the strength to stand up to wild-eyed Marxists like Bernie Sanders," the Vermont senator, "and his fellow radicals, then how is he ever going to stand up for you?"
Formally accepting the Republican renomination, he said he was "proud of the extraordinary progress we have made together over the last four incredible years and brimming with confidence for the bright future we will build for America over the next four years."
As expected, Trump papered over his flawed handling of the pandemic, attempting to focus voters' attention on brighter times ahead and vowing to produce a vaccine for Covid-19 before the end of the year.
"We are meeting this challenge. We are delivering lifesaving therapies, and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner," he said. "We will defeat the virus, end the pandemic and emerge stronger than ever before."
Trump once again blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus, noting that "many Americans, including me, have sadly lost friends and cherished loved ones to this horrible disease." He employed selective statistics to disguise that his administration has presided over one of the world's worst responses to the pandemic and now has more cases than any other country around the globe.
"As one nation, we mourn, we grieve and we hold in our hearts forever the memories of all of those lives that have been so tragically taken. So unnecessary," Trump said. "In their honor, we will unite. In their memory, we will overcome."
As Trump spoke Thursday night the nation had passed the grim milestone of more than 180,000 deaths as a result of Covid-19 and some 5.8 million US cases -- more than anywhere else in the world. The President touted the work on "lifesaving treatments" and moves like the administration's purchase of 150 million rapid tests that will be distributed across the country in partnership with Abbott Laboratories.
The President, who has consistently ignored and undercut the advice of scientists and public health officials, accused Biden of wanting to "surrender" to the virus.
"Instead of following the science, Joe Biden wants to inflict a painful shutdown on the entire country," Trump said, arguing, as always, that states should open their economies more swiftly so that Americans can return to work and their children can go back to in-person classroom instruction.
Multiple speakers, such as Vice President Mike Pence and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, referred to the pandemic in the past tense during the convention and Trump too seemed to suggest that the virus was waning, a view that contradicts the facts. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 3,600 Americans had died over the first three days of the convention -- more than the number who died during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Pandemic ignored at the White House
Given those statistics, the scene on the South Lawn of the White House Thursday night was stunning. Many of the more than 1,500 guests mingled close before and after the speeches, snapping selfies and chatting in close clusters as though the threat of the pandemic had evaporated. Many of the roughly 1,500 chairs set out on the lawn were arranged as close as 6 inches apart on the lawn, falling well short of the administration's own guidelines for social distancing. Most attendees were milling about without wearing masks.
Chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that "a number of people will be tested" for coronavirus before the event, but he did not specify who those individuals would be. Health experts on the White House coronavirus task force have been advising Americans to avoid large crowds during the pandemic.
CNN's Jim Acosta reported Thursday night that a senior White House official brushed off concerns about the lack of social distancing at Trump's speech.
"Everybody is going to catch this thing eventually," the official told Acosta.
The blatant use of presidential power to help the President's electoral chances was unprecedented. Huge video screens displaying the Trump-Pence campaign logo were on the lawn underneath the White House's iconic Truman Balcony. The convention stage was set up on the grounds of a building known as the "People's House," which has housed American presidents for more than 200 years.
It was just the latest example of how the campaign has trashed normal protocol and decorum designed to protect the institution of the presidency from over-politicization throughout this week.
Among the other blatant uses of official government property and pageantry for political purposes during the convention this week was the naturalization ceremony in the White House, a pardon for a political supporter, the use of federal property for political speeches and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressing the convention while on an international trip.
Police violence and racial unrest on the agenda
Speaking in an uncharacteristically flat voice, Trump delivered an indictment of Biden, claiming that the November election would decide whether "we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny."
Portraying Biden as beholden to Sanders and the progressives who supported the Vermont senator during the Demcoratic primary, he said the election would determine whether the country gives "free rein to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens."
Trump also warned in stark rhetoric that Democrats see a "wicked nation that must be punished for its sins."
"Joe Biden is not the savior of America's soul -- he is the destroyer of America's jobs, and if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness," Trump said. "For 47 years, Joe Biden took the donations of blue-collar workers, gave them hugs and even kisses, and told them he felt their pain -- and then he flew back to Washington and voted to ship their jobs to China and many other distant lands."
At the Democratic National Convention last week, Trump said Biden and Democrats "repeatedly assailed America as a land of racial, economic, and social injustice."
"How can the Democratic Party ask to lead our country when it spends so much time tearing down our country?" he asked. But he did not make any efforts himself to heal the racial strife that has swept the nation since the death of George Floyd, who was killed in May by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for more than seven minutes.
In the days leading up to the speech, Trump refused to answer questions about the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back Sunday by a police officer as he tried to enter an SUV where three of his children were waiting.
Early Wednesday morning, a 17-year-old Illinois youth -- whose social media accounts show an affinity for Trump, guns and the police -- allegedly shot and killed two people, and injured another, who were at one of the nighttime protests in Kenosha organized to call for justice for Blake.
Trump mentioned Kenosha in passing and instead of attempting to empathize with the tragedy that has brought demonstrators to the streets, he listed the city along with a string of others where he argued that protests have devolved into violence that endangers American families.
"When there is police misconduct, the justice system must hold wrongdoers fully and completely accountable, and it will. But what we can never have in America -- and must never allow -- is mob rule," Trump said. "In the strongest possible terms, the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and New York."
Earlier in the night Ben Carson, Trump's secretary of housing and urban development, offered condolences to the Blake family, stating at the beginning of his speech that "our hearts go out to the Blake family" and others affected by the violence in Kenosha.
"As Jacob's mother has urged the country, let's use our hearts, our love, and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other," Carson said.
"In order to succeed in change, we must first come together in love of our fellow citizens," the Housing Secretary added. "History reminds us that necessary change comes through hope and love, not senseless and destructive violence."
Carson also chided Democrats who have called Trump a racist. "They could not be more wrong," he said, arguing that the President had brought African American unemployment to all-time lows and had supported measures in private life and government to promote minority businesses.
Trump has for years dealt in inflammatory rhetoric, from his intervention in the Central Park Five case in New York, to his racist Birther campaign against President Barack Obama to his claims that there were "very fine people" on both sides during clashes between white supremacists and protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Before Carson, the convention had largely stayed away from mentioning events in Wisconsin, aside from Pence who on Wednesday night tossed a mention of the city into a line about how "the violence must stop."
Throughout the summer, Trump has described anti-police protesters as "THUGS," and his administration cleared peaceful protesters with tear gas from a location in front of the White House before the President participated in a photo op in front of a nearby church with a Bible in hand. The administration says the clearing was done so fencing could be put up, not because of Trump's photo.
In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday afternoon, Biden said that Trump is "absolutely" rooting for violence in the country's streets so he can claim a "law and order" mantle heading into the November election. But Biden also pointed out that the violence playing out around the country is happening under Trump's watch, despite his attempts to blame his rival.
"If you think about it, Donald Trump saying you're not going to be safe in Joe Biden's America -- all the video being played is being played in Donald Trump's America," Biden told Cooper with a laugh on CNN's "Newsroom."
"The country will be substantially safer when he is no longer in office," Biden added.
This story has been updated with additional developments from the final night of the convention.
CNN's Jim Acosta contributed to this report.