CLEVELAND — Donald Trump accused Democratic rival Hillary Clinton of a legacy of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness” as U.S. secretary of state and vowed to be tough on crime and illegal immigrants in a speech on Thursday accepting the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump’s speech was designed to set the tone for the general election campaign against Clinton, an answer to Republicans who say the best way he can unify the divided party is to detail why the Democrat should not be elected on Nov. 8.
As the crowd chanted: “Lock her up” for her handling of U.S. foreign policy, Trump waved them off and said: “Let’s defeat her in November.” Thousands of supporters who were gathered in the convention hall roared their approval.
The remarks by Trump, 70, closed out a four-day convention that underscored his struggle to heal fissures in the Republican Party over his anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric and concerns about his temperament. The event was boycotted by many big-name establishment Republicans, such as 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and members of the Bush family.
Trump stuck to his hard-line position on illegal immigrants, saying they were taking jobs away from American citizens and in some cases committing crimes. He accused President Barack Obama of inflaming racial tensions rather than calming them.
His speech was filled with some of the bravado he used to win the Republican nomination over 16 rivals.
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves,” Trump said. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
In his speech, Trump offered little in the way of details about his policies but rather portrayed himself as a fresh alternative to traditional politicians, willing to consider new approaches to vexing problems and help working-class people who may feel abandoned.
“I am your voice,” Trump said.
Laying out his case against Clinton, he denounced nation-building policies that were actually put in place to some extent by George W. Bush, without mentioning by name the Republican president who launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Trump said nation-building pursued by Clinton in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria had made a bad situation worse. He blamed her for the rise of Islamic State militants and blasted her willingness to accept thousands of Syrian refugees.
“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. This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” Trump said.
The New York businessman, who has never held elective office, needs a strong performance on Thursday night to improve his chances of getting a boost in opinion polls as Democrats prepare for their own more scripted convention next week in Philadelphia.
In a contest that pits two politicians viewed as unfavorable by large segments of the American people, Trump also accused Clinton, 68, of being the puppet of big business, elite media and major donors who want to preserve the current political system.
“That is why Hillary Clinton’s message is that things will never change. My message is that things have to change — and they have to change right now,” Trump said.
Citing a wave of violence in American cities, Trump vowed to restore law and order, warning that 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records “are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
Trump said he would speedily address the violence that has dominated headlines, such as the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers earlier this month.
“I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on Jan. 20, 2017, safety will be restored,” Trump said. The next president takes office on Jan. 20.
The prevailing narrative at the Cleveland convention has not been about Trump’s positions, but dominated instead by the failure of he party’s various factions to unite behind Trump.
Trump wants to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, ban Muslims from war-torn Middle Eastern countries and renegotiate international trade agreements. He also says he would force U.S. allies in Europe and Asia to pay more for the U.S. defense umbrella. All those positions go against prevailing Republican beliefs.
A series of distractions has largely thwarted a bid by the Trump campaign to show him as a caring father and magnanimous business leader who would bring greater prosperity and safety to the United States.
Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, made the biggest strides toward that goal. But when it was discovered her remarks repeated lines from a 2008 speech by Michelle Obama, the wife of the Democratic president, the uproar lasted for three days.
On Wednesday night, Trump’s last major rival during the bitterly fought Republican primary battle, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, was booed off the stage for refusing to endorse Trump and urging Republicans instead to “vote your conscience.”