CLEVELAND — Donald TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE capped off a tumultuous Republican convention here on Thursday night with a speech presenting himself as a strong leader able to impose order on a nation in crisis, while his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble MORE, was accused of being complicit in rigging the system against most Americans.
To Trump fans, the address, which ran well over an hour, showed the newly minted nominee at his most comfortable and energized. To his critics, it offered a gloomy, forbidding vision to a nation that prides itself on optimism.
Trump, who famously loves the spotlight, will now have to yield to Clinton for most of the next week.
Her choice of running mate could well be announced within the next 24 hours, and the Democratic National Convention will begin in Philadelphia on Monday.
There, Clinton will be able to roll out political big guns — President Obama and her husband, former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFederal judge changes his mind about stepping down, eliminating vacancy for Biden to fill Joe Biden's gamble with history Can America prevent a global warming cold war? MORE, among them — striking a stark contrast with the Republican National Convention. Many high-profile Republicans, including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and both Presidents Bush, stayed away from Cleveland, as did a large number of senators.
But Trump’s speech at least stabilized the GOP after the storms of the previous days and ended the convention on a positive note. That was important, since the event was hit on its opening night by a furor over a passage from Melania Trump’s speech that turned out to have been plagiarized from a 2008 Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaPoll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Son gives emotional tribute to Colin Powell at service Biden, ex-presidents gather for Colin Powell's funeral MORE address.
Even worse was to come for Trump, when Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBiden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions MORE’s (R-Texas) refusal to endorse him in his Wednesday night appearance left the crowd in the Quicken Loans Arena — and the Republican Party more broadly — in uproar. The Cruz flap followed on from a row earlier in the week as anti-Trump delegates sought to protest the convention’s rules.
Cruz’s speech in particular robbed the convention of its orthodox role as a display of party unity. The self-inflicted wounds in the GOP from the extraordinary primary season have evidently not healed, and that reality is likely to reassert itself as the rapturous reception Trump received for his acceptance speech dies away.
Other speeches here from figures including Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (Wis.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had their moments but seem unlikely to move the general-election needle.
Still, Trump’s speech showed him playing the cards he had been dealt as well as he could. Giving the biggest speech of his life, he seemed confident and at ease.
His promise to be the voice of “the forgotten men and women of our country” may prove politically potent. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track, and most experts believe Trump’s most plausible road to victory is through Rust Belt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he may be able to draw voters to the polls who have felt disenchanted and disenfranchised for years.
Trump at times adopted a persuasive approach rather than the more bombastic one he sometimes favors, leaning upon statistics to support his contention that crime was out of control, for instance. He also twice invoked the name of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Bernie Sanders' ex-spokesperson apprehensive over effectiveness of SALT deductions MORE (I-Vt.), Clinton’s left-wing rival in the Democratic primary, appealing for former supporters of the Vermonter to join his movement.
On a purely technical level, Trump also performed well, sticking mostly to the prepared script that rolled across his teleprompter but avoiding the stiltedness that has afflicted some of his prepared addresses in the past.
Still, Clinton has long sought to portray Trump as too divisive a figure to lead the nation. His focus on immigration in general during his big night — and his reiteration of his promise to built a wall along the southern U.S border in particular — was enthusiastically endorsed by the audience in the hall. But it may not have played so well to the nation at large.
Trump also evidently sees political advantage in presenting himself as the candidate of law and order. He may be right, given that the electorate is grappling with recent tragedies involving the targeted killings of police. But to some, the phrase “law and order candidate” is a racially loaded one, hearkening back to the days of President Richard Nixon.
For now, Republicans will be relieved that the final night of the convention was not hit by the chaos and accusations of amateurism that afflicted it at other times. But now attention swings to Clinton, and the general election begins in earnest.