Donald Trump completed his hostile takeover of the Republican Party on Thursday with one of the most ominous speeches of his campaign, showing his already dystopian view of America has darkened considerably since he first announced his presidential campaign.
After descending the golden escalator of his own New York City skyscraper last year, Trump sounded alarms about Mexican rapists and Chinese domination. But in the 57 astounding weeks between launching his candidacy and accepting his party's nomination, the real-estate developer and TV personality has painted a picture of an America on the verge of an apocalyptic ending.
On Thursday, there was none of the humor that attracted thousands to his rallies and neutralized rivals in 11 GOP debates. Instead, he spoke about "death, destruction, and weakness" in America and the country suffering "international humiliation."
Only he can pull the nation back from the brink, Trump said.
"Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it," the billionaire said.
Trump accused Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, of lying about her use of private e-mail as secretary of state, becoming the first presidential candidate to use a convention speech to accuse his opponent—or anyone else—of lying, according to a Bloomberg analysis of every presidential convention speech since 1932.
He shouted his lines until his voice sounded hoarse, lending an urgent tone to the 75-minute speech, the longest acceptance speech since 1972, according to C-SPAN. His announcement speech was the longest of any this presidential cycle, the network said.
Compared to his announcement speech a year ago, Trump's speech Thursday included fewer superlatives (no promise of being the "greatest jobs president that God ever created"), made no mention of his own businesses, and relied much less on the kind of antagonistic language that first launched his campaign on June 16, 2015.
When a protester disrupted his speech, Trump did not order security to "get 'em out" as he often does at rallies. When the crowd chanted "lock her up!" about Clinton, Trump parried rather than backing it up. "Let's defeat her in November," he said.
Trump showed his willingness to temper some of his most outrageous proposals on immigration that threaten his candidacy among undecided voters.
He still promised a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as he did in June of 2015, and it remains a crowd-pleaser among Republicans. But there was no mention of forcing the nation's southern neighbor to pay for it, a claim that Republicans and Democrats have described as laughable.
His most audacious pivot came on an issue that hadn't even surfaced when Trump first announced—his proposal to ban Muslim immigration. But he described the immigration ban in broad terms on Thursday, without mentioning any religious standard.
Instead, he called for suspending "immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism" before going off script. "We don't want them in our country," he said. The crowd roared with approval.
On trade, Trump made an emotional pitch a year ago to stop jobs from being sent to China and Mexico. On Thursday, there was no mention of Mexico by name and only three mentions of China, 20 fewer than a year ago.
"It's been a signature message of my campaign from day one," Trump said Thursday about renegotiating trade deals. "And it will be a signature feature of my presidency from the moment I take the oath of office."
Trump's carefully crafted speech in Cleveland—when compared to the rambling address delivered a year ago in the lobby of his New York tower—shows that he is still betting his chances on the dark picture of America that he started painting that first day.
But he dramatically shifted his tone on Thursday, the most important night of his campaign so far, in a turn toward seriousness that his campaign team has been promising for months.
Some of those changes were incomplete.
He attempted to reach out to gay voters, long a Democratic constituency, by promising to protect them "from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology." But he didn't address his opposition to same-sex marriage, which gay-rights groups view as a civil-rights issue.
Still, his mention of protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans from terrorism drew an applause from the crowd. "As a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said," Trump said.
He used much more inclusive language on Thursday by talking about the collective "we," and relied on far fewer references to himself as compared to his announcement speech.
In New York last year, he talked about his Trump-branded golf courses, his Washington, D.C. hotel, his New York skyscraper, his best-selling business book, and repeated references to his net worth. He didn't mention any on Thursday.
Striking notes of humility, Trump described himself as a mere figure-head, acknowledging the unlikeliness that he's now the spokesperson of a conservative party frustrated by defeats in four of the last six presidential contests.
"I am your voice," Trump, reading from a teleprompter, told thousands of Republican delegates and supporters. "To every parent who dreams for their child, and every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I'm with you, and I will fight for you and I will win for you."
Trump's speech punctuated an erratic four-day Republican National Convention marked by delegate chaos on the arena floor, stolen lines in the speech delivered by his wife, and a remarkable show of defiance and disunity from center stage by Senator Ted Cruz, Trump's final primary rival.
If the convention matched the unpredictable and messy branding that propelled Trump to the top of his primary race, his acceptance speech signaled a potentially new path forward for the candidate himself.
There were fewer personal attacks on opponents and more focus on issues, such as Clinton's foreign-policy record and the growing national debt under President Barack Obama.
He didn't mention Japan stealing America's jobs and money, and there was much more precise talk about Islamic terrorism. In June, Trump's main objection was that terrorists built a hotel and become real-estate competitors in the Middle East (a statement the nonpartisan fact-checker PolitiFact determined was false).
Compared to his announcement, Trump has clearly turned his attention away from Obama, whom he mentioned five times by name compared to 11 times a year ago.
He didn't mention Clinton at all in New York. But on Thursday, in a sign that Trump is now in general-election mode, he attacked her 11 times by name.
"Hillary Clinton’s message is that things will never change," Trump said. "My message is that things have to change—and they have to change right now."
-- With assistance from Andre Tartar and Bloomberg contributor Adam Tiouririne.