When Donald Trump spoke, a sense of delusion hovered over the White House 

180,000 Americans have died from coronavirus – but the president proclaimed his successful record and attacked Biden as a threat to the US

President Trump brought the Republican National Convention to a close with an acceptance speech that cast Joe Biden as a threat to America’s security and declared that this was the most important election in US history.

In a speech laced with pageantry and a long litany of the president’s policy victories, but short on facts, the President depicted a clash of cultures between a Republican party inspired by patriotic love for the United States, and a Democratic party captured by socialists who hate America. 

Mr Trump’s speech was designed to energise his base of evangelical voters and white working-class Americans. This is essential for the president who is 8 per cent behind his opponent in national polls.

But Mr Trump also used his speech to signal to wealthy, white Americans that he would cut their taxes and safeguard their wealth, in stark contrast with Mr Biden whose agenda, he argued, was now in lock step with Bernie Sanders.  

At a time when Congress remains deadlocked over future fiscal stimulus, and the need for state intervention is great, this was probably reassuring for those Americans reluctant to see increased state intervention become a permanent fixture, and those that continue to benefit from a buoyant stock market. 

The Trump campaign erected giant screens on the White House lawn Credit: EPA

The speech proclaimed the president’s successful delivery of his America First agenda and struck a tone of unerring optimism about America’s history and also its future.

With less than 70 days to go before the presidential election, and a catastrophic health crisis that has spiralled out of control leaving 180,000 Americans dead, tens of millions out of work, and the lowest ever recorded GDP in Q2, a sense of delusion hovered over the White House ceremony. 

Mr Trump delivered his speech on the White House lawn, before a live audience of hundreds of supporters sitting side by side, unmasked, in a clear sign that the president will continue to deny the advice of America’s leading public health experts and also the plight of America today.

Mr Trump’s re-election hinges on his ability to win over undecided voters in swing states. And he is placing a bet that his law-and-order agenda will sway these voters. 

This week gave the President an additional opportunity to push this agenda as the US witnessed yet another episode of police brutality. On Sunday, Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, was shot seven times in the back as he walked to his car in Kenosha, Wisconsin where his three children sat waiting. As the Republicans delivered their convention speeches, protests continued to escalate and some turned violent. 

His acceptance speech portrayed a Democratic Party and its presidential candidate as an existential threat to the safety and security of the American people. And in one of the speech’s darker moments, he depicted escalating violence on the streets of America’s democratic cities. 

The speech was a gamble. Political conventions rarely impact elections and the remaining 67 days will matter far more than anything that has taken place in North Carolina or Washington this week.  The race is also likely to tighten in the weeks ahead.

The election is a referendum on Mr Trump, and for those voters who have not already decided, they will be watching the virus, the economy, and evaluating their own personal circumstances. 

But the elections might once again be decided by voters in a handful of swing states that have an outsized effect on the US elections. Wisconsin is one of three Rustbelt states that delivered the White House to Mr Trump in 2016, and it could also decide the fate of the November elections.

As the summer has gone on, support for Black Lives Matter has declined. Polls show that in August, 48 per cent of voters in Wisconsin support the movement, down from the 61 per cent approval in June. 

But declining support for BLM has not yet translated into approval for Mr Trump. In fact, the public has less confidence in his ability to deal with BLM, than with the economy or the public health crisis. Disapproval of the president's handling of the protests has remained steady at 58 per cent. And only 28 per cent of independent voters approve of Mr Trump’s handling of BLM.

The upshot of this is that there may be something to play for in this Rustbelt state. But this assumes that undecided voters are looking for order and that, to get it, they are willing to trade off equality and justice.  The president’s actions could also backfire.  Voters may want to see more order on the streets of their hometowns but they might also assume it can and should be delivered alongside a genuine commitment to reform. 

Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden have rightly agreed that this election is the most important one in decades. In the end, it will be a referendum on Mr Trump, and his ability to manage Covid-19 and the crises that have accompanied it. 

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