Trump paints a grim portrait of the U.S. and casts himself as its only savior in GOP acceptance speech

Painting a dark portrait of a country besieged at home and threatened abroad, Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night with a blistering indictment of the Obama administration and a promise to enhance the safety and economic standing of Americans victimized by a failed political system.

Lacing into Hillary Clinton, Trump seized on her unofficial campaign slogan, “I’m With Her,” to portray his presumptive Democratic opponent as part of a self-dealing Washington culture that has lost touch with the anxiety and struggles of everyday Americans.

“My pledge reads, ‘I’m with you, the American people,’” Trump said on the final night of the Republican National Convention. “I am your voice.”

It was a voice suffused with anger and steeped in resentment — toward trade deals that, Trump said, have undermined the working class; at a culture straitened by “political correctness”; at the deaths of police officers shot down in the line of duty; at terrorists who have struck in San Bernardino, Boston and Orlando, Fla.; at masses of “illegal immigrants” who “are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”

America is in crisis, Trump said, with attacks on police and domestic terrorists threatening "our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country."

He hollered, pumped his fists in the air, waved his arms and occasionally strode from the lectern to applaud himself as delegates cheered and clapped along.

The speech amounted to a last-minute attempt to salvage a convention that went badly awry and spread new obstacles onto Trump’s already steep path to the White House. Trump did so by going after two of the GOP’s ripest targets: Clinton and President Obama.

“The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment than, frankly, I have seen or anybody in this room has ever watched or seen,” Trump said.

Overseas, “the world is far less stable than when President Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy,” he said of her time as secretary of State. “I am certain it is a decision he truly regrets.”

When the crowd interrupted to chant, “Lock her up!” Trump calmly replied, “Let’s defeat her in November.”

“Her bad instincts and her bad judgments — something pointed out by Bernie Sanders — are what caused so many of the disasters unfolding today,” Trump said, pouring salt on his harsh words by invoking Clinton’s main Democratic primary opponent. 

“Big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent because they know that she will keep our rigged system in place,” Trump said, suggesting he alone could fix it.

Corruption, according to Trump, should be the top line on Clinton’s resume. “Her single greatest accomplishment may be committing such an egregious crime and getting away with it,” he said, referring to the lack of charges against Clinton for using a private email system to transmit government information.

Trump shunned sweeping passages and high-flying rhetoric for a series of punchy rat-a-tat declarations. He made few specific proposals beyond his oft-repeated promises to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico  — which delegates celebrated with repeated chants of "build that wall!" — and impose an open-ended ban on immigrants from “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.” He did not, as he has before, single out Muslims.

He also vowed to cut taxes, roll back regulations and “turn our bad trade agreements in great ones.”

“I have made billions of dollars in business making deals,” the Manhattan real estate magnate said. “Now I’m going to make our country rich again.”

Notably absent from the 75-minute address were the standard Republican promises to outlaw abortion, bring back school prayer or define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. 

Trump vowed instead to protect gays and lesbians from Islamic terrorism, then ad-libbed when he heard the crowd react enthusiastically. “As a Republican, it is so nice to hear cheers for what I just said.” 

And in a rare show of humility, Trump dramatically paused to thank evangelical Christians for their strong support in the primary season. "I’m not sure I totally deserve it," the thrice-married, admitted adulterer said with a sheepish smile.

Trump’s speech, after a glowing introduction by his oldest daughter, Ivanka, topped off the convention and was followed by a showering of 125,000 balloons and the classic tableau of the nominee, his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and their families smiling and waving from the stage.

But the portrait of unity and good cheer could not paper over the difficulties Trump faces.

The stakes for his acceptance speech grew exponentially greater after three days of serial mishaps: a last-gasp floor fight by delegates seeking to thwart the business mogul’s nomination; revelations that his wife plagiarized passages in her testimonial address; and, most dramatically, Sen. Ted Cruz’s snub of Trump during his prime-time speaking slot Wednesday.

Unrepentant, Cruz ignored demands Thursday that he make amends by immediately endorsing Trump. Instead, he declared he would not be a “servile puppy dog.”

“This isn't just a team sport," the senator told fellow Texans at a delegation over breakfast. "We either stand for shared principles or we’re not worth anything."

More than most nominees, Trump needed a successful convention to bind the wounds of a fratricidal primary season and, more importantly, reassure the majority of Americans who have trouble visualizing the TV showman and business tycoon as the nation’s commander-in-chief.

The foreign policy portions of his speech amounted to an assertion that, inexperience notwithstanding, he would still do a better job than Clinton keeping the country safe.

“After 15 years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before,” Trump said. “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

He faces, however, a tough climb to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House and is in desperate need of an image makeover with women, college-educated voters, Latinos, African Americans and other significant swaths of the electorate.

The last several days have made that effort more difficult. 

Once more, Thursday’s run-up to the evening program consisted of a series of damage-control efforts.

Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s campaign, backpedaled when asked about a New York Times interview in which Trump seemed to suggest the U.S. may not honor its defense commitment to NATO allies.

“What Mr. Trump has said consistently is that he thinks NATO needs to be modernized” to fight terrorist threats, Manafort told reporters at a morning briefing.

Trump and his allies also sought to minimize the import of Cruz’s snub, portraying it as an instance of classlessness and political expedience.

“The problem is, he's so unlikable,” Donald Trump Jr. said about Cruz in a CNN interview, emulating his father’s penchant for personal put-downs. “Literally no fans, no friends.”

It was not just the unity effort that went awry.

Trump had promised to use his theatrical gift and a dazzling array of speakers to inject some rare pizzazz into the four-day program.

Instead, there were technical glitches — including a Wednesday night crash of the jumbo screen inside the convention hall, slipshod scheduling that pushed some key speakers out of TV’s prime time and an eclectic group of little-known actors and others whose sole qualification was their admiration for Trump.

The result was a lack of any coherent political message for voters seeking insights into Trump’s approach to handling the presidency or his solutions to the problems — dysfunction at home, chaos overseas  — that he and one speaker after another railed against.

One of the bright spots of the convention was the introduction of Pence, who delivered a well-received acceptance speech that mixed self-deprecation with strong conservative principles close to the heart of the GOP’s core activists.

But that’s only a start on the considerable work Trump and his running mate will need to do between now and Nov. 8 to cap one of the most improbable political rises in modern history with a move into the White House.

Times staff writers Michael Finnegan and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

mark.barabak@latimes.com

Twitter: For more political news and analysis follow me @markzbarabak

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UPDATES:

8:35 p.m.: This article was updated with Trump’s remarks.

7:20 p.m.: This article was updated with Trump accepting the Republican presidential nomination.

7:10 p.m.: This article was updated with detail on Ivanka Trump’s address.

6:55 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a draft of Trump’s prepared remarks.

4:55 p.m.: This article was updated with details from a draft of Trump’s acceptance speech.

This article was originally published at 3:05 p.m.

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