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Four takeaways from the first night of the Republican National Convention

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican Party kicked off its convention to re-elect U.S Donald Trump with an unsubstantiated warning from the president himself that he may face a “rigged election,” followed in the evening by full-throated praise for Trump and warnings that America would crumble under Democratic leadership.

WARNINGS AMERICA AS WE KNOW IT WOULD DISAPPEAR

Democrats spent much of their national convention last week trying to convince independent and even lifelong Republican voters that nominee Joe Biden would be an acceptable choice.

The Republican approach has been much different. From speeches from the McCloskeys, the St. Louis couple that waved guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, to a fiery address from Trump campaign aide Kimberly Guilfoyle, there was little effort to persuade undecideds or unhappy Democrats.

Instead speakers tried to motivate – even frighten – Trump’s passionate base.

Conservative activist Charlie Kirk, who led off the evening speeches, called the presidential election nothing less than a decision between “preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.”

Guilfoyle delivered her speech in a near shout, although she was speaking to an auditorium in Washington emptied by the coronavirus pandemic.

“They want to destroy this country, and everything that we have fought for and hold dear,” she said of Democrats. “They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think, and believe, so they can control how you live!”

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HEIGHTENED PRAISE FOR TRUMP

Any presidential party convention is a coronation of the party’s nominee, and Democrats featured a spectrum of people speaking about Biden’s character, from career politicians to an elevator operator.

Some speakers’ praise for Trump during the first day of the Republican convention went further.

“He started a movement to reclaim our government from the rotten cartel of insiders that have been destroying our country,” Kirk said. “We may not realize it at the time. But Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization.”

HALEY STANDS OUT

On a night filled with screeds, Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, laid out an effective political case for the president’s re-election, highlighting his shredding of a deal with Iran and other foreign policy positions.

That wasn’t a surprise. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, has political experience that many of the evening’s speakers lacked.

Haley, a child of Indian immigrants, attempted to draw a contrast with what she called Democratic support of “riot and rage.”

“I was a brown girl in a black and white world,” Haley said. “We faced discrimination and hardship. But my parents never gave in to grievance and hate.”

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A PUSH FOR BLACK VOTERS

Kim Klacik, an African-American congressional candidate from Baltimore, is a long shot to win her race, but she scored a prime speaking slot on the Republican convention’s first night.

Klacik was part of an effort on the first night of the convention to showcase Black supporters of Trump following a Democratic convention that highlighted that party’s diversity.

Trump received just 8 percent of the African-American vote in 2016. His opponent’s running mate, Kamala Harris, seeks to become the first Black woman vice president. Trump has regularly criticized the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The Democratic Party does not want Black people to leave their mental plantation,” Georgia state Representative Vernon Jones said. “We’ve been forced to be there for decades and generations. But I have news for Joe Biden. We are free. We are free people with free minds.”

Football legend Herschel Walker declared Trump his “friend” and not a “racist.”

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the chamber’s only Black Republican, was the evening’s final speaker. Like Haley, he attempted to outline a more optimistic vision of America, drawing upon his own personal life story as an unlikely congressional candidate.

“From cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” Scott said.

Rather than a painting a dark vision of angry mobs or “leftist” violence, Scott criticized Biden’s long tenure in Washington, suggesting he was incapable of bringing about real change.

“So when it comes to what Joe Biden says he’ll do, look at his actions. Look at his policies. Look at what he already did,” Scott said. “And what he didn’t do while he’s been in Washington for 47 years.”

It was a singular appeal to swing voters in a night filled with alarmist invective.

Reporting by Jim Oliphant and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Heather Timmons, Peter Cooney and Sonya Hepinstall

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