Trump sells himself as president

Trump sells himself as president
© Greg Nash

CLEVELAND — Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE electrified the GOP faithful gathered here Thursday evening, as he began to chart a course toward the general election.

In a wide-ranging speech that ran over an hour, Trump, now the official Republican nominee for president, had to tackle the difficult job of sealing open rifts in the party while making his case to the rest of the American public as the general election began in earnest.

ADVERTISEMENT

At least in the convention hall, the speech appeared to do much for the former.

And there were several signs of a general election pivot as Trump begins to directly challenge Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton3 ways government can help clean up Twitter Intelligence Democrat: Stop using 'quid pro quo' to describe Trump allegations The Memo: Bloomberg's 2020 moves draw ire from Democrats MORE. Trump repeatedly vowed to be a voice for Americans who see a “rigged system” run by power players, while painting Clinton as that group’s standard-bearer.

But Trump stuck closely to nearly all the foundations of his campaign, a raucous and one-time unthinkable path that ultimately left him with some of the highest disapproval numbers ever seen in a presidential candidate.

The billionaire businessman reiterated his vow to build a border wall, crack down on Muslim immigration, and reject political correctness as the de facto leader of one of the nation’s major political parties. Much of the speech painted a grim picture for the United States, as Trump presented himself as the only person up to the job of getting the country back on track.

“This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” he said.

Trump largely stuck to the script in his wide-ranging address, minimizing the showmanship and sometimes eccentric performance that loyalists embraced on the campaign trail.

After a rock-star entrance Monday to introduce his wife Melania’s remarks, where Trump appeared dramatically in the shadows accompanied by “We Are the Champions,” his appearance on Thursday was downright presidential.

He walked out to instrumental music that would have been home on “The West Wing,” and closed his speech surrounded by his family like any other major political candidate in recent memory.

Trump’s remarks, met with repeated cheers and chants, represented a positive step for the GOP after the messy days leading up his acceptance of the party’s nomination.

Just 24 hours earlier, the convention was in disarray after Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war Retirement bill blocked in Senate amid fight over amendments MORE publicly rebuked Trump by refusing to endorse him, as Republicans openly feuded in front of the nation.

And the first few days of the convention were derailed by revelations that Trump’s wife had plagiarized portions of her speech from firat lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaBloomberg threatens to shake up 2020 primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Michelle Obama unveils all-star lineup for 2020 get-out-the-vote push MORE.

Even on Trump’s big day, things did not proceed entirely smoothly. A Democratic group aligned with Clinton actually got a copy of Trump’s full remarks hours before he delivered them, and handed them over to the press.

But as Trump delivered those remarks, the cheers in the convention hall Thursday evening were loud, frequent and from all corners.

In many ways, the speech was a polished version of the themes that drove Trump to the nomination: blasting “job-killing” trade deals, committing to halt the entry of Muslim immigrants from nations “compromised by terrorism,” and vowing to build a “great border wall” along the southern border.

Each of those Trump mainstays generated a huge response and resonating chants from loyalists who drove him to a nomination once widely seen as impossible.

Trump spent large portions of his remarks highlighting his perceived ills of the country, emphasizing recent tragedies nationwide. He cited the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead, and deaths of Americans at the hands of illegal immigrants.

He painted the U.S. economy as leaving a whole subset of Americans behind, as trade deals and an influx of immigrants deprived millions of opportunities.

But there were also clear signs that Trump had an eye on broadening his appeal as well, as he and Clinton enter a presidential race where there are two of the most unpopular candidates in history.

He made reference to the plight of the inner cities, lamented the economic struggles of Latino and African-American populations, and gave a seemingly earnest nod toward the gay community.

After referencing the Orlando shooting, Trump vowed to protect the LGBTQ community “from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”

Republican convention-goers, who days earlier had adopted a platform that opposed same-sex marriage, heard from an openly gay Republican, investor Peter Thiel, earlier in the day, and cheered.

Trump acknowledged the reaction warmly.

“As a Republican, it’s so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you,” said Trump.

At one point, the real estate tycoon broke from his script in another general election shift.

In the days leading up to Trump’s speech, the most frequent rallying cry in Cleveland had been chants of “lock her up!” directed at Clinton. Trump tapped into many of those same criticisms regarding the former secretary f State's emails and her foreign policy, but he tamped down the chant when it inevitably broke out during his remarks.

Rather than grin or join in, he waved his hands to quiet them down.

“Let’s defeat her in November,” he suggested instead.

The only question is whether a polished Trump — who is still undeniably Trump — can get that job done.