By ALISA WIERSEMA and MEG CUNNINGHAM, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Against a backdrop of a struggling economy and more than 170,000 lives lost to the coronavirus, Republicans on Monday painted an ominous picture of what losing the White House would mean for the country.
It may not have been the traditional, crowd-filled production the president and his party originally wanted to celebrate, but the first night of the Republican National Convention featured a slew of speakers, videos, and even appearances from the president himself. Through it all, the president’s party offered haunting interpretations of the current political and cultural landscape.
Event organizers said the first night of the convention would serve as a table setter for the next three days, and the following three takeaways from the first night of the RNC could continue to play out over the rest of the week.
GOP unites behind Trump while offering a dark assessment of America
The first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention cemented how far the party has come in terms of unity over the course of the last four years. In 2016, delegates audibly booed against the nomination of Donald Trump on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, and rumblings of a contested convention loomed over the lead-up to the typically celebratory event.
Monday night’s largely virtual choreography offered no room for visible disagreement even if it existed, and the evening presented a sharp shift from any past political uncertainty as Republicans united in their vehement praise of Trump, while offering apocalyptic depictions of what the nation would look like without the incumbent remaining in the Oval Office.
Charlie Kirk, the 26-year-old president and founder of the conservative student group Turning Point USA, kicked off the night with a dark warning.
“I am here tonight to tell you — to warn you — that this election is a decision between preserving America as we know it, and eliminating everything that we love,” Kirk said before praising Trump as “the bodyguard of western civilization.”
“Trump was elected to protect our families” from a “vengeful mob that wishes to destroy our way of life, our neighborhoods, schools, church, and values,” he said, adding that the nation is “under attack by a group of bitter, deceitful, vengeful, arrogant activists.”
Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz called Trump “a builder” and “a visionary” while offering similar broadly dystopian warnings about the possibility of Democrats rising to power.
“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door. And the defunded police aren’t on their way,” Gaetz said.
Kim Klacik, a Maryland congressional candidate hoping to take over the seat held for years by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, brought her long-shot campaign platform to the national stage in claiming that Democrat control of Baltimore has detrimentally affected African Americans.
Klacik described Baltimore as a city filled with “abandoned buildings, liquor stores on every corner, drug addicts and guns on the street,” while praising President Trump for delivering on his promises to the nation and “bringing this country back roaring.”
Trump was also praised by supporters of the president who were featured throughout the evening in videos and remarks. Among them were Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who described how they defended their home in St. Louis from a “mob of protesters” when they waved their guns at demonstrators in a now-viral video.
The McCloskeys were charged last month with felony unlawful use of a weapon for brandishing guns during a peaceful demonstration outside their mansion.
Speakers paint Biden-Harris and Democratic Party as far-left
Monday’s lineup of speakers fell in lockstep with President Trump’s frequent attacks on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the 2020 Democratic ticket.
Those attacks included claims that Biden supports raising taxes for certain groups of Americans, that he supports defunding the police and that he’ll abolish ICE — and also included frequent mispronunciations of Kamala Harris’ name.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley called Biden and Harris “socialist” while calling out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“A Biden-Harris administration would be much, much worse. Last time, Joe’s boss was Obama,” Haley said. “This time, it would be Pelosi, Sanders, and the Squad. Their vision for America is socialism. And we know that socialism has failed everywhere.”
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, who became an ally of the president during impeachment proceedings in late 2019, attacked local Democratic leaders across the country in his remarks.
“Look what is happening in American cities, cities run by Democrats. Crime, violence and mob rule,” he said. “Democrats refuse to denounce the mob and the response to the chaos is to defund the police, the border patrol and our military.”
Viewers also heard from Maximo Alvare, a Cuban immigrant, who said of Biden and Harris, “I’ve seen people like this before.”
“I’ve seen movements like this before,” Alvare said. “I’ve seen ideas like this before and I’m here to tell you, we cannot let them take over our country.”
“When I watch the news in Seattle and Chicago and Portland, when I see history being rewritten, when I hear the promises — I hear echoes of a former life I never wanted to hear again. I see shadows I thought I had outrun,” he said.
Attacks on China continue
Throughout his time in office, Trump has repeatedly attacked China, blaming the country for the coronavirus pandemic, trade wars and taking American jobs.
In a pre-recorded conversation with voters, Trump again referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” before appearing to recognize the offensive nature of the phrase.
“We can call it many different things from China virus,” he told supporters. “I don’t want to go through all the names because some people may get insulted, but that’s the way it is.”
Trump has repeatedly called COVID-19 the “China virus” or “Chinese flu,” insisting the Chinese government is “fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world,” as he put it last month, and other speakers followed suit.
“Before communist China gave us the coronavirus, we were breaking economic records left and right,” Nikki Haley said. “The pandemic has set us back, but not for long. President Trump brought our economy back before, and he will bring it back again.”
Though the country has plummeted into the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, Trump’s marks on the economy remain high. He consistently outpaces Biden in public opinion polling on the subject, reflecting what has come to be his strongest talking point.
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