Donald Trump said Joe Biden would bring chaos to US cities and spread socialism across the nation, as he used his speech on the final night of the Republican convention to portray his Democratic rival as soft on crime.

Speaking from the South Lawn of the White House in front of more than a thousand supporters, Mr Trump accepted his party’s presidential nomination in an address that presented an America at a crossroads, urging voters to choose between “two visions, two philosophies, two agendas”.

Cementing his line of attack as he prepares for the critical final stretch of the race, the president cast the election as a choice between a socialist America wracked by political correctness where looters controlled the streets versus a country in which police were empowered to stamp out lawlessness.

With little more than two months until the election, he portrayed the Republicans as defenders of cities that were being destroyed by Democrats and said that Mr Biden would allow “mob rule”.

“If you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left will defund police departments . . . no one will be safe,” Mr Trump said, adding that Democrats would support “anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag-burners”.

Mr Biden, who has repeatedly said that he does not support the reduction of police budgets, responded to the president’s speech in a tweet. “Remember: every example of violence Donald Trump decries has happened on his watch. Under his leadership. During his presidency.”

The Republican convention has coincided with violent unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, a black man, was shot by a white police officer.

Mr Trump has been criticised for inflaming racial tensions and doing nothing to curb systemic racism, and his speech did not mention Mr Blake, or the fatal shooting of two protesters by a 17-year-old teenager who attended one of his campaign rallies in Iowa. Nor did he mention the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer earlier this year.

The president rejected criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 180,000 lives in the US, and said the country would have a vaccine for the disease by the end of the year — a timeline more optimistic than that given by some of his officials.

Mr Trump said his decision this year to ban most flights from China and then Europe in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading more quickly in the US had saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

In a wide-ranging speech that touted his own achievements and outlined what he said were Mr Biden’s flaws, he said his rival would push a socialist agenda that would destroy the American way of life.

“Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism,” Mr Trump said, adding that his Democratic rival did not have “the strength to stand up to wild-eye Marxists” like Bernie Sanders, the leftwing senator who lost the Democratic nomination to Mr Biden.

Hitting back at the claim from Mr Biden at the Democratic convention that he was spreading darkness across America, Mr Trump said: “Joe Biden may claim he is an ally of the light, but when it comes to his agenda, Biden wants to keep you completely in the dark.”

Mr Trump said the election in November would determine whether the American way of life would be protected, or “whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it”.

Beyond the attacks on “law and order”, Mr Trump assailed Mr Biden over his foreign policy and record on job creation when he served in the White House for eight years as vice-president.

Resurrecting one of the key themes of his 2016 campaign, he blamed Mr Biden for supporting trade deals that led to manufacturing job losses in rust-belt states from Ohio and Michigan to Pennsylvania.

“The laid off workers . . . didn’t want Joe Biden’s hollow words of empathy, they wanted their jobs back,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump won the 2016 election by beating Hillary Clinton in the rust-belt, but currently trails Mr Biden in most of those critical swing states. He is also behind his opponent in national polls.

In response to Mr Biden saying recently that he would support more lockdowns if recommended by scientists, Mr Trump said his opponent wanted to “inflict a painful shutdown on the entire country”.

As Mr Trump spoke on the final evening of the convention, hundreds of protesters gathered a block away at Black Lives Matter Plaza to criticise the president, chanting, “Donald Trump has got to go”. 

Tens of thousands of Americans are expected to descend on Washington on Friday for a large anti-racism march in the capital.

In a line that was applauded by his supporters, Mr Trump said he had fulfilled many of his 2016 pledges, including appointing 300 conservative judges and two Supreme Court justices — one of the reasons that Republicans who had doubts ultimately decided to vote for him.

Mr Trump has drawn fire from Democrats for holding a political event at the White House using taxpayer money. His supporters sat close together — in contravention of government social distancing guidelines — and many appeared not to be wearing masks.

Two months out from the election, Mr Trump is turning to the “law and order” message that helped propel him to victory in 2016 and that he employed to more mixed success in the 2018 congressional elections.

Over four days of the convention, Republicans accused Democrats of refusing to condemn the protests sparked by the shooting of Mr Blake and Floyd’s earlier death.

While Democrats have voiced support for Black Lives Matter, Mr Trump’s base has been more supportive of Blue Lives Matter — a counter movement that rejects suggestions that the deaths of black men at the hands of the police is the result of systemic racism.

Kellyanne Conway, a top White House political aide, told Fox News on Thursday that continued unrest in cities would help Mr Trump make the case that he was tougher on law and order than his opponent.

Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls?

Use the FT’s interactive calculator to see which states matter most in winning the presidency

“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety, and law and order,” said Ms Conway.

Concluding his address before fireworks went off above the White House, Mr Trump told his supporters: “On November 3, we will make America safer, we will make America stronger, we will make America prouder, and we will make America greater than ever before!”

Follow Demetri on Twitter: @dimi





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