President Donald Trump attacked Democratic rival Joe Biden in front of a large crowd on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, as Republicans warned of a lawless and dangerous America if Biden wins the November election.
Trailing in national opinion polls, Trump accepted his party's nomination on the Republican National Convention's final night with a speech asserting that a Biden victory would only worsen the crises besieging the country.
"At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas," Trump said. "This election will decide whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny."
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Trump delivered his remarks in front of more than 1,000 people, standing in front of dozens of American flags and basking in chants of "Four more years!" and "USA!"
The made-for-television scene - befitting the first reality TV host to serve as president - stood in marked contrast to Biden's acceptance speech last week, which was broadcast live from a largely empty arena in a nod to the disease.
Trump's decision to speak from the White House lawn drew criticism that he was using the official residence for partisan purposes. The crowd, seated in white chairs inches apart, showed little evidence of social distancing or face masks despite health experts' recommendations.
The coronavirus prompted both political parties to scale back their conventions and make events mostly virtual. The Trump campaign said it had taken appropriate health precautions.
Though an incumbent seeking a second four-year term, Trump remains a self-styled outsider, an approach that won him the White House, his first elected office, in 2016 on a promise to end the crime and violence he said was afflicting the country.
With the country reeling from the pandemic and a wave of anti-racism protests, several speakers on Thursday argued that state and city Democratic leaders, not the Trump administration, were to blame for the racial strife convulsing US cities, including Kenosha, Wisconsin, where this week police shot and paralyzed a Black man.
"It is clear that a vote for Biden and the Democrats creates the risk that you will bring this lawlessnesss to your city, to your town, to your suburb," said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump confidant. Like other Republicans, Giuliani falsely accused Biden of embracing calls to "defund the police," a position the Democrat has rejected.
As the night unfolded, Biden struck back on Twitter, writing, "When Donald Trump says tonight you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America, look around and ask yourself: How safe do you feel in Donald Trump's America?"
NATION UNDER SIEGE
More than 180,000 people have died in the United States from the coronavirus - more than any other country, according to a Reuters tally - amid a fresh wave of protests over the latest high-profile police shooting of a Black American.
In Kenosha, relative calm returned after three nights of civil strife ending on Tuesday, including arson, vandalism and deadly shootings.
Trump, a former New York real estate developer, is seeking to turn around a re-election campaign that has been largely overshadowed by a health crisis that has put millions of Americans out of work.
While his approval rating among Republican voters remains high, dissent is mounting within the party. In three open letters being published on Thursday and Friday, Biden won endorsements from more than 160 people who worked for Republican former President George W. Bush or for past Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain, the New York Times and Politico reported.
Earlier this week, 27 former Republican lawmakers endorsed Biden while the Lincoln Project, among the most prominent Republican-backed groups opposing Trump, said a former Republican Party head had joined it as a senior adviser.
Thursday's program aimed to counterbalance those defections, featuring a video showcasing former Democratic voters who say they now support Trump and remarks from US Representative Jeff Van Drew, who abandoned the Democratic Party to join the Republicans after voting against Trump's impeachment this year.
"Joe Biden is being told what to do by the radicals running my former party, the same radicals trying to install him as their puppet president," he said.
The program also included several emotional appeals, including from the parents of Kayla Mueller, an aid worker who died after being held captive for months by Islamic State militants in Syria. The Mueller parents said they blamed the Obama administration for failing to rescue Mueller.
The Republican convention has attracted fewer television viewers than its Democratic counterpart on two of its three nights so far, including on Wednesday, according to early Nielsen Media Research.
A total of 17.3 million people watched the third night of the mostly virtual Republican National Convention on Wednesday, according to Nielsen, fewer than the 22.8 million viewers for the third night of last week's Democratic convention.
Trump kicked off the week on Monday by accusing Democrats of seeking to steal the election by advocating for mail-in voting. His previous high-profile speeches have also emphasized grim themes, including his inaugural address in January 2017 that described "American carnage."