That is what a red-faced Donald Trump told the American people as he accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night, shouting for 74 minutes to millions of viewers beyond the Cleveland convention hall who, by a margin of 70-30%, believe the country is on the wrong track.
“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice,” he thundered. “I am your voice.”
To listeners partial to historical comparisons, you could almost imagine him yelling in German, “Ich bin Ihre Stimme.”
Casting himself as a nationalist, authoritarian America-first strongman who would fight for people aggrieved and discomforted by trade deals, immigration and crime, Trump avoided some of his more outrageous assertions – no “Crooked Hillary,” “Mexico will pay for the wall” or ban on all Muslims from immigrating – while also opposing some of the tenets of recent Republican orthodoxy.
In opposing free trade, foreign wars and by seeming to attack big business, Trump sought to reshuffle the political landscape, hoping to attract angry, working-class voters in key states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida, where he would have to win in order to capture the White House.
At one point, Trump portrayed himself as someone who in his own business had mastered the art of manipulating politicians and using legal loopholes and the campaign finance system to get what he wanted, saying that he is uniquely qualified to end the economic and political corruption.
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me,” he said, pointing towards himself with self-approval. “Which is why I alone can fix it.”
That same old song: Trump’s uber-mission was to argue, after three previous days of a very rocky convention, that he represents change and that Hillary Clinton represents the status quo, and he put it right out there:
“My message is: things have to change, and they have to change quickly,” he said. “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 the respect that we deserve.”
As a practical matter, the record-long acceptance address was a remix of Trump’s greatest hits — build the wall, start a trade war with China and destroy ISIS “quickly” (the ways and means of doing so, beyond his own boundless ego, remain mysterious). Because he read the entire hour-and-fifteen minutes stemwinder on a teleprompter, with very few textual departures, it lacked the energy, ad libs and full Bull Goose Loony of the stadium mass rallies where he was been haranguing huge
mobs crowds for the past year.
To some extent the speech channeled Richard Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech, in focusing on “restoring” law, order and American strength. “In this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate,” he said, at a time when crime rates are at their lowest in decades. Trump also whiffed on the positive part of Nixon’s address, which was substantial.
Trump also delivered enough purist nationalism to appeal to the most rabid, um, right-wingers. “Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders! Air Trade! Couldn’t have said it better,” tweeted Ku Klux Klansman David Duke.
He insisted NATO allies would have to pay their fair share of their defense – a rejection of decades of American foreign policy under both Democrats and Republicans – but did not go as far as he did in an earlier interview with the New York Times in which he said:
“If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal… I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”
Trump also gave short shrift to other familiar hobby horses of recent Republican campaigns: he gave a special shout out to “evangelicals” (without mentioning abortion rights or gay rights), “school choice” and “ending Obamacare,” but mentioned all three issues only in passing very near the end of his speech.
(Don’t) Lock Her Up: Towards Hillary Clinton, he was slightly more respectful than usual – he referred to her as “my opponent,” not “crooked Hillary.” Whether because delegations were so instructed or not, the one time the “lock her up” chant got going, Trump, no doubt mindful of trying not to be too nasty to a mass audience, threw cold water on it: “Let’s defeat her in November.”
While he avoided the usual nasty monikers, he still was brutal in his description of his opponent.
“After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before,” he said. “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”
“But Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy,” he continued. “The problems we face now – poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad – will last only as long as we continue relying on the same politicians who created them. A change in leadership is required to produce a change in outcomes.
In passing, the giant persimmon hairball sounded sympathetic notes for the “LGBTQ community ,” at least in terms of sympathizing with the mass murder victims in Orlando, a rare refrain at a Republican convention. After delegates applauded his promise to protect non-heterosexuals, he seemed to ad lib a second line on the subject: “As a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said – thank you.”
Trump also referenced government-sponsored infrastructure projects, concern about college loan debt – and high rates of minority unemployment, nodding to several liberal themes that his daughter, Ivanka, underlined in her introduction of him, including equal pay for equal work for women – “he is color blind and gender neutral.” She even mentioned bipartisanship, saying her father would “work with both sides of the aisle.” Where’s Jeb Bush when you need him?
With 70% of women telling pollsters they disapprove of Trump, it was left to Ivanka to speak to a cohort of voters her father has so fully alienated. Which she did, with grace and clarity.
If anyone connected outside of the hall during the entire four-day GOP flubfest, it was Ivanka.
Via the New York Times, here is the transcript of Trump’s speech.