CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The first night of the Republican National Convention offered a sweeping defense of President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and depicted Democrats as a threat to an America engulfed in national protests.
“From a global pandemic, to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, 2020 has tested our nation in ways we haven’t seen for decades,” Sen. Tim Scott, of South Carolina, said. “Make no mistake: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want a cultural revolution. A fundamentally different America. If we let them, they will turn our country into a socialist utopia.”
The backdrop for Trump’s convention: an America in turmoil as the pandemic rages and protests continue calling for an end to racial injustice. The convention pulled frequently at those two threads, bouncing between praising the federal response to coronavirus and casting Democrats as socialists who would stoke racial animosity and allow riots to rage.
“They put political correctness ahead of the safety and security of the American people,” Donald Trump Jr. said. “Anarchists have been flooding our streets and Democrat mayors are ordering the police to stand down.”
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, considered a likely candidate to run for president as a Republican in 2024, delivered a defense of America’s racial dynamics, offering a personal story of her immigrant parents.
“In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country,” Haley said. “America is a story that’s a work in progress. Now is the time to build on that progress, and make America even freer, fairer, and better for everyone. That’s why it’s tragic to see so much of the Democratic Party turn a blind eye toward riots and rage.”
Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, credited his political success in part to “the evolution of the Southern heart.”
“In an overwhelmingly white district, the voters judged me not the color of my skin, but the content of my character,” Scott said of his first run for Congress.
Republicans sought to depict the pandemic in an optimistic tone, detailing the response overseen by the federal government and touting medical treatments. In contrast, it showed protesters as violent and dangerous, warning Democrats would usher in more unrest.
“Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals, but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens,” said Mark McCloskey, who along with his wife Patricia McCloskey gained national attention when they pointed guns as Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their St. Louis home.
“So make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America,” Patricia McCloskey said. “What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you watching from quiet neighbors around the country.”
The president enters his convention trailing rival Democrat Joe Biden in the polls, and he faces a torrent of criticism for his administration’s handling of the pandemic. This week’s convention will be his most aggressive attempt yet to turn the national sentiment in his favor.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, sought to present a softer side of Trump, sharing a story about how the president took time to speak to his family after his nephew died in a car crash two years ago.
“Democrats won’t let you go to church, but they’ll let you protest,” Jordan said. “Democrats won’t let you go to work, but they’ll let you riot. Democrats won’t let you go to school, but they’ll let you loot. President Trump has fought against their crazy ideas.”
Trump, who is scheduled to make an appearance every night of the RNC, met with first responders at the White House in a pre-taped video to discuss their experience with the coronavirus. Trump appeared again later in the evening in another video taped from the White House with six hostages who were rescued during his administration.
Democrats hosted their convention last week, conducting the event almost entirely remotely and receiving high praise for the production value. Republicans will feature taped videos, but conclude each night with a more traditional format featuring a series of speakers on a single stage.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also sought to cast Biden as a far-left candidate and argued that much of his “radical” plans were unknown to the American public.
“If you watched the DNC last week you probably noticed that Democrats spent a lot of time talking about how much they despise our president. But we heard very little about their actual policies,” she said.
The Republicans decided to forgo a new party platform this year and instead passed a resolution to leave in place their 2016 platform.
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Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s most fervent defenders, mocked Biden for not holding more events outside of his home during the pandemic.
“I’m speaking from an auditorium emptier than Joe Biden’s daily schedule,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz called a Biden administration a “horror movie.”
“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz said. “And the defunded police aren’t on their way.”
CORRECTION (Aug. 24, 2020, 7:10 p.m. ET): A photo caption on a previous version of this article misidentified Tim Scott’s congressional position. He is a senator, not a House member.