CLEVELAND — Donald Trump on Thursday night accepted the Republican nomination for president, promising to be the “voice” of the American people, build a “great border wall to stop illegal immigration,” make America safe from threats domestic and abroad and fix a system that is “rigged against our citizens.”
In a high-stakes speech aimed at unifying Republicans on the last night of a rocky four-day national convention, Trump called the United States “a nation of believers, dreamers, and strivers that is being led by a group of censors, critics, and cynics.”
“Remember: All of the people telling you that you can’t have the country you want, are the same people telling you that I wouldn’t be standing here tonight,” Trump, 70, said with a half-dozen Secret Service agents ringing the stage.
“No longer can we rely on those elites in media, and politics, who will say anything to keep a rigged system in place,” he said.
“Instead, we must choose to believe in America. History is watching us now. I am your voice!”
In a largely scripted address, Trump promised aggressive spending to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure while cutting taxes, creating jobs by improving global trade deals and eliminating the terrorist group ISIS.
“I have a message for all of you. The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end,” Trump said. After he is inaugurated as president next January, Trump said, “safety will be restored.”
The improbable nomination of Trump, a billionaire businessman from Manhattan, came after he largely barnstormed through the GOP primaries this year.
But the united front experts say Trump will need to beat presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton failed to materialize at the convention — with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump during a speech Wednesday night, the most glaring example of party rifts.
“If party unity and staying on message are convention goals, so far, they have come up short,” said Lee Miringoff, a political scientist and director of the Marist Poll that has been tracking the presidential campaign. “But Hillary Clinton will eventually be the unifier for the party in the fall.”
The convention’s theme so far has been that Clinton and President Barack Obama have brought the United States to the brink of disaster in key realms including national security, job creation, trade and immigration.
“After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have?” he asked. “ISIS has spread across the region, and the world. Libya is in ruins, and our ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons,” he said. “The situation worse than it has ever been before.”
“This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness,” Trump said.
He also called for greater support of police, under pressure now by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There can be no prosperity without law and order,” he said, drawing cheers. He made a long pause, looking steely eyed at his chanting supporters, then shouted: “How great are our police?”
Republican speakers generally have argued that Trump — despite rough edges and an aversion to political correctness — is needed to blow up a rigged, corrupt political system to “make America great again.”
He charged that “big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent because they know she will keep our rigged system in place.
“They are throwing money at her because they have total control over everything she does,” Trump said of Clinton. “She is their puppet, and they pull the strings.”
Trump said he “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, which is why I alone can fix it.”
Trump criticized Clinton for supporting “virtually every trade agreement that has been destroying our middle class . . . I pledge to never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers, or that diminishes our freedom and independence. Instead, I will make individual deals with individual countries.”
Trump said the “most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents is that our plan will put America first. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. 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 respect.”
Trump also criticized Obama for his response to recent attacks on law enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Trump called himself the “law-and-order candidate.”
The Obama administration, he said, has “failed America’s inner cities. It’s failed them on education. Its failed them on jobs. It’s failed them on crime. It’s failed them at every level.”
But Trump’s promises to build a wall on the Mexican border and halt immigration of Muslims have been widely criticized, and many Republicans have expressed qualms about them.
“Do I agree with him on everything? No,” said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran unsuccessfully against New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2014.
Trump wants to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, including their children born in the United States. Astorino, who speaks Spanish fluently, is instead working with immigrant families in programs to help them land jobs and education.
“I think that’s a better way, but I understand what he’s saying. You have an immigration system that is completely broken in this country,” Astorino said. But “there are also human faces to that, and I think we all have to recognize and realize that as well.”
The Democrats’ convention begins Monday, leaving little time for Trump to receive any bump from the RNC before he is bashed daily in Philadelphia.
“The back-to-back scheduling of the presidential conventions really presented Trump with a challenge, because in any case his post-convention bump up in the polls would not last long,” said professor Brooks D. Simpson, a political scientist from Arizona State University.
A NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll this week had Clinton with a 46-45 percent edge, a difference that is within the margin of error. Polls have shown a strong partisan divide.
With Emily Ngo