President Donald Trump accepts the Republican Party nomination for reelection Thursday against storm clouds of racial tension, riots and the coronavirus pandemic — while warning of "chaos" should he lose to Democrat Joe Biden.
The former celebrity real estate developer has ripped up convention throughout his first term.
So it is fitting that he brushed aside longtime presidential etiquette to transform the White House into his personal stage for the closing speech of the Republican convention at 10:30 pm (0230 GMT).
There on the South Lawn, flanked by dozens of US flags and facing a live audience, Trump will echo speakers throughout the week who framed him as nothing less than a guardian of the American way of life.
"I'm the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness and chaos," Trump himself said last week.
That message comes as the country reels in shock at the videotaped killing by a police officer of an African American man during an attempted arrest in front of his children — and at the sometimes violent protests erupting afterward.
Days of demonstrations and rioting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, have transformed the small town into a national arena for America's painful tensions over racial justice, police violence, and gun rights. When a teenaged vigilante — reportedly a Trump fan — allegedly killed two people and seriously wounded a third at a protest Tuesday night, the perfect storm was complete.
Struggling in opinion polls after what almost two thirds of Americans say is his unsatisfactory handling of the Covid-19 crisis, Trump has latched on to what he calls "law and order" as a possible route to victory on November 3.
Democrats assert that police forces across the country are plagued by inherent racism. Trump is leading Republican pushback, banking on the idea that Americans will be angrier at scenes of rioting than at police abuses.
On Twitter, Trump said he "will NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets."
Americans "won't be safe in Joe Biden's America," as Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, put it in his convention speech late Wednesday.
– Milking the violence? –
Trump's opponents say he is already presiding over chaos.
In addition to soaring racial tensions, the United States is still struggling to master the coronavirus outbreak or get schools and businesses back fully open.
The arrival of Hurricane Laura on the Gulf Coast earlier Thursday only accentuated the perilous situation in the world's richest country just over two months before election day. Trump said Thursday he'd been "prepared to postpone" his convention address before the hurricane's impact turned out to be less severe than feared.
Still, Trump's big speech is expected to mix that almost dystopian portrait of Biden with uplifting themes about American ambition and courage.
Reelection depends on massive turnout from his loyal base but also support from a relatively small number of independent voters in the crucial swing states. The more hopeful parts of the speech will be aimed at the latter.
Trump is especially keen to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the form of a pre-election breakthrough on Covid-19, especially a vaccine. And a few hours before the speech, the White House announced the large government purchase of 150 million rapid coronavirus tests from Abbott Laboratories to help schools and businesses to reopen safely.
Biden's team accuses Trump of being derelict on the coronavirus, which has killed more than 180,000 Americans so far. On the race front, Biden goes further.
"He views this as a political benefit to him," Biden said in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday. "He is rooting for more violence, not less. He is pouring gasoline on the fire."
In what was billed as a "pre-buttal" to Trump's speech, Democratic vice presidential pick Kamala Harris also alleged that Trump has not done his presidential duty.
"It's his obligation to protect us. And yet he has failed. Miserably," she said.
– Humanizing Trump –
While Biden, 77, has maintained a solid lead over 74-year-old Trump for weeks, the racial unrest and speculation over improvements in the coronavirus outlook make predictions risky. Trump is keen to remind that he won in 2016 as a first time political candidate despite many predictions that he'd fail.
To try and broaden his passionate but limited base, Republicans have worked throughout the convention to humanize the combative president.
His wife, Melania, took center stage at the convention on Tuesday to display the empathy he is so often accused of lacking.
"He's an authentic person who loves this country," she said in Tuesday's keynote speech.
On Thursday night, it will be the turn of influential daughter Ivanka, the latest of several children extolling Trump's virtues, to be in the spotlight.