CLEVELAND (AP) — In an appeal to anxious voters, Donald Trump is pledging Thursday night that “safety will be restored” if he is elected president, using his Republican convention address to denounce Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of a political class causing the nation’s troubles.
“As long as we are led by politicians who will not put ‘America First,’ then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect,” Trump says, according to excerpts released ahead of his address.
Trump’s speech on the closing night of the Republican convention marks his highest-profile opportunity to unite his fractured Republican Party and quiet Americans’ concerns about his preparedness for the White House.
Trump was introduced by his oldest daughter, Ivanka. Seeking to reshape her father’s divisive image, she said he was “color blind and gender neutral,” and would be a champion of all Americans as president.
“When you have my father in your corner, you will never again have to worry about being let down,” she said.
Trump takes the stage in Cleveland facing a daunting array of challenges, many of his own making. His nominating event has been consumed by a plagiarism charge, unusually harsh criticism of Clinton, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s dramatic refusal to endorse the GOP nominee from the convention stage.
Overseas U.S. allies as well as voters at home will be closely watching his address, which comes the day after his suggestion that he might not defend America’s NATO partners as president.
Trump’s wife, Melania, foreshadowed it all on opening night, noting, “It would not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama.”
His team hopes to close the convention on a more traditional note, with the businessman delivering a scripted speech to the convention crowd and millions of Americans watching on television. Balloons will drop from the ceiling, and the stage will be filled with Trump family members and supporters.
Father and daughter took the stage together in the afternoon for an extensive walkthrough, taking turns standing at the podium and staring out into an arena that will be filled with jubilant delegates by evening.
“I love the media,” Trump said with a smile as he tested the microphone.
By night’s end, Trump’s campaign hopes voters see the real estate mogul as a candidate who, despite his unorthodox political temperament, is prepared to lead the nation.
“I think he needs to lay out some clear policy views,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said. “There are still a lot of people at the convention and within the party who are not sure where he’s going to stand.”
Trump is expected to stick with some of his most contentious proposals, including his call for building a wall on the Mexican border. As the convention’s final night began, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County vouched for Trump’s hard-line credentials on immigration.
“We have terrorists coming over our border, infiltrating our community and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “Donald Trump will build the wall.”
On the eve of his address, Trump suggested a new course for U.S. foreign policy, saying he would set different conditions before coming to the defense of NATO allies. The remarks, in an interview published online Wednesday by The New York Times, deviate from decades of American doctrine and seem to reject the 67-year-old alliance’s bedrock principle of collective defense
As president, Trump said he would defend allies against Russian aggression only after first ensuring they had met their financial commitments. “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes,” he said.
Democrats, Republicans and international partners warned of the risks of backing away from NATO obligations.
“Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Democrat Clinton’s top policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Trump’s proposal showed he was “temperamentally unfit and fundamentally ill-prepared to be our commander in chief.”
As Trump wrapped up his convention, Clinton was closing in on her selection of a running mate. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine emerged as the leading contender, according to two Democrats familiar with the selection process, with an announcement expected as early as Friday.
Clinton was aggressively attacked throughout the four-day Republican convention, with delegates repeatedly chanting, “Lock her up.” Republicans used her decades in politics to draw a sharp contrast with Trump, a political novice promising to shake up Washington.
“The dirty little secret Democrats don’t want you to know is that they’re the party doing the same old thing,” party chairman Reince Priebus said. “Next week they are going to trot out the same old Democrats with the same old message running the same old candidate.”
Trump had hoped the four-day Republican convention would bolster his support among GOP leaders and win over skeptics. But that goal seemed guaranteed to go unfulfilled following Cruz’s stubborn defiance on the convention stage.
The Texas senator refused to endorse Trump during his Wednesday speech, even as delegates loudly jeered him from the convention floor. It was a surreal moment given how carefully scripted political conventions normally are, and served as a fresh reminder that Trump events rarely go by the rules.
A Cruz aide said one of Trump’s advisers had reached out to the senator’s team shortly before the speech in hopes of getting a last-minute commitment.
Trump brushed aside the controversy, insisting Cruz was an outlier in an otherwise unified party.
“Other than a small group of people who have suffered massive and embarrassing losses, the party is VERY united. Great love in the arena!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
AP writers Kathleen Hennessey, Josh Lederman, Alan Fram and Thomas Beaumont in Cleveland, and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.
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