Trump Sends Dire Warnings to Nervous Nation as Convention Begins
In 2000, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush promised to "use these good times for great goals." Even as the Iraq War ground on in 2004, he was upbeat, calling for a "more hopeful America." Mitt Romney, the nominee in 2012, chose "A Better Future" as his theme.
Republican National Conventions are often marked by patriotic speeches and balloon drops. But this year's will be defined by their presumptive nominee, who responded to the killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday with a dire warning about the direction the nation was headed.
"It will only get worse!" Donald Trump tweeted.
Trump's official coronation unfolds this week with a sharply divided electorate processing ominous and steady outbursts of chaos and disorder around country -- and the world. On the eve of the convention, he made clear that he believes that his path to the White House depends on convincing voters that only he can protect them from a dark future.
"We are TRYING to fight ISIS, and now our own people are killing our police. Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching," he said in another tweet posted Sunday. In an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" he dismissed President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as "weak" and unable to provide "law and order."
The president, meanwhile, had a warning for the Republicans who will no doubt try to use the string of negative headlines against him and Clinton.
“We’re about to enter a couple of weeks -- the conventions -- where our political rhetoric tends to be more overheated than usual,” Obama said. “We need to temper our words, and open our hearts -- all of us.”
Both Obama and Trump are directing their messages at voters who are feeling especially pessimistic about the nation. On Sunday, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reported that only 18 percent of those polled said the country was headed in the right direction, with 73 percent saying it was on the wrong track -- a three-year high.
The theme of the first night of the convention, announced hours after the Baton Rouge killings, is "Make America Safe Again," a slogan popularized by Trump after five police officers were killed in a shocking attack in Dallas.
Trump’s candidacy was defined by the caustic personal attacks he’s leveled at his opponents and his proposals to ban Muslim immigration and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Both his supporters and opponents have traded blows inside and outside of his rallies, and even Trump has said he'd "like to punch" one of his protesters "in the face."
Asked how protests and outbreaks of lawlessness in Cleveland this week could change the trajectory of Trump's run, campaign chairman Paul Manafort was optimistic.
“Frankly, that impact will probably help the campaign," he said at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast with journalists in Cleveland on Monday.
Perhaps knowing that Trump will need to temper his depiction of recent events so as not to come off as unrelentingly negative, his campaign has offered a prime-time speaking slot to Pastor Mark Burns, who plans to offer a hopeful vision of healing racial divisions.
"Unity -- that's the central theme to my message," Burns told Bloomberg Politics about the message he plan to deliver on Thursday. "We need to talk about coming together as a nation. I will be talking about unity and love. We must not be focused on our divisions. We are one people. We need unity and love."
While he's recently started to refer to himself as the law-and-order candidate in the race, Trump has struggled to strike a balance between the seemingly endless run of bloody headlines, and the politics of the moment. The juxtaposition of the Louisiana deaths and his four-day convention will give him another chance.
“Trump should seriously consider weaving a narrative that attempts to heal the country because of the recent tragedies," said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former senior congressional aide. "He must thread the needle between consoling our nation while at the same time showcasing how his presidency could lead America to a better place."
The Clinton campaign echoed those points, saying "Americans look to their President to be a unifying figure."
"Donald Trump is incapable of being that. His first instinct is always to enflame tensions and sow further divisions," said Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Clinton's campaign. "While he is pitting people against one another, Hillary Clinton is reminding the country that we have overcome great challenges before and throughout our history, we have always been stronger together."
Trump responded to the Orlando massacre, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, with self-adoration for “being right on Islamic terrorism.” A day later, as the nation was mourning, he unloaded a withering barrage of insults at Clinton. He had an "emotional" response to the terror attack that killed 84 people in Nice, France, on Thursday, according to Manafort, and postponed his vice-presidential announcement for a day.
When he held his news conference on Saturday to introduce Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, Trump spoke for nearly a half hour on a wide rage of topics. He devoted about 30 seconds to the massacre in France.
“We’ve witnessed horror beyond belief, no matter where you look, and now it’s happening more and more. And it’s never going to stop,” Trump said.
“We need new leadership,” he continued, connecting the outbreak of mass murders to raison d’etre of his candidacy. “We need new thinking. We need strength. We need, in our country, law and order. And if I’m elected president, that will happen.”
Then, minutes later, Trump was back to incendiary attacks on his rival. “She got away with murder,” Trump said about Clinton and the recent scandal over her use of e-mail while secretary of state. “She’s going to pay the price when November 8th rolls around.”
-- With assistance from Sahil Kapur.