CLEVELAND — Donald Trump delivered a populist message steeped in tough talk against trade, immigration and terrorism in his acceptance speech Thursday night, revving up his followers but leaving a lot of questions about whether he can appeal to a broader base and sway undecided voters.
That appeared to be the consensus of political observers, party loyalists and industry officials, who commended Trump’s acceptance speech but said the muddled convention didn’t give him the boost he needs as he heads back to the campaign trail and awaits the battle with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The Quicken Loans Center was at capacity for the last night of the Republican National Convention to watch Trump accept his party’s nomination. Delegates roamed the convention center decked out in attention-grabbing garb that included American flags, sparkles, elephant patterns, antiHillary Clinton apparel and cowboy hats. One man wore an orange jumpsuit with handcuffs and a Clinton mask, which he would lower over his face at the behest of photographers.
During Trump’s nearly 90-minute speech, a protester with a pink cloth sign shouted: “Donald Trump is a racist,” before being strong-armed by security. As the woman was restrained, the crowd began chanting: “Lock her up with Hillary” and “USA.” The spectacle fueled the energy in the arena, which felt hostile at times and electrifying at others.
Media types gave mixed views of Trump’s speech, with some characterizing it as “dark” with loaded, “angry, humorless” language, while others called it “powerful” and “exciting.”
“The speech is very non-Grumpy. It’s almost Edwardian Goth. Whoever wrote it has a super dark vision of America,” said MSNBC host Joy Marcus via Twitter.
Her colleague Chris Matthews had a slightly more positive spin, adding late Thursday night that the speech had a “rousing ending.”
“It was not for everybody in the media…maybe this was the speech America wanted to hear?” “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said Friday morning on his show. “It was Pat Buchanan’s 1992 speech without Jesus.”
Cohost Willie Geist said the speech was consistent with Trump’s message during the primaries. “The thrust of his campaign is that America is going to hell in a hand basket,” Geist said, and Trump is “the solution to that problem.”
After looking at some post-speech research, campaign strategist Mark McKinnon, co-star of Bloomberg’s “The Circus” said 75 percent of people who watched it “found it very positive.”
“I think the Republican party largely came home to Trump,” said political commentator Nicolle Wallace on the “Today Show.”
“They shouldn’t spend the entire convention bashing Trump,” he said, cautioning that Clinton should be wary of her “trust issues,” too.
There was also a sense from the media of not knowing what to make of the whole thing, in light of the fact that hardly anyone expected Clinton’s opponent to be Trump. Either way, one thing seemed certain: next week, like the past one, will be another spectacle.
“It’s a circus. We’ve seen the elephants, next the clowns,” CNN’s John King told WWD.
Meanwhile, industry officials and others weighed in, noting that Trump played well to his supporters but they were less enthusiastic about the convention, which was dogged by controversy throughout the week.
They began with a partly plagiarized speech that Trump’s wife, Melania, delivered on the first night and what many saw as a poor decision to give a speaking slot to Sen. Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse Trump at the convention.
But surrogates did their best to pump up the delegates, vilifying Clinton at every turn while highlighting Trump’s business credentials and offering him up as a candidate for change versus the establishment.
Trump’s children received big kudos from some who watched the speeches. Ivanka Trump — in a dress from her own fashion brand — shared personal stories about her father’s character in a speech before he accepted the nomination and tried to shore up the candidate’s dismal poll ratings with women by contending that he has always championed women working in his company.
The newly anointed Republican presidential nominee still faces dissent within the ranks of his own party. But his choice of Mike Pence as his running mate gave some in the party hope that the Indiana governor will bring a more pragmatic, rational and business-friendly balance to the ticket.
Now Trump must pivot to general election mode and industry officials and political observers all said he has a tough road ahead.
Phillip Swagel, a professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland, said both Ivanka Trump and Trump himself tacked to the left of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on many of the issues outlined in their speeches Thursday night.
“He’s making promises he could keep only at great cost to the U.S. economy, such as with immigration and trade,” Swagel said. “If Mr. Trump is elected — a big if — he would act first on immigration, and as President would have a lot of scope to do that. He would renegotiate TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal] but Hillary [Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee] would do that as well. Beyond that, it’s hard to know.”
Swagel said the convention has been a “series of blunders and poor execution so far,” but noted that people appeared eager to listen to Trump.
He said Trump’s acceptance speech was not a “train wreck.”
“And to his credit, Trump is finally making an appeal to Republicans. Along with the nomination of Gov. Pence, this should get him an additional 1 million to 2 million Republicans who might otherwise have just sat out the election,” he added. “But he still needs to drive down Hillary’s vote in the key states — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. It’s a tough road.”
Industry officials reacted warily to his speech, which contained the same antitrade rhetoric they have heard on the campaign trail.
Trump reiterated his vows to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, withdraw from the 12-nation TPP pact and crack down on China for manipulating its currency and stealing U.S. intellectual property.
“Mr. Trump said that ‘bad trade’ is going to become ‘great trade’ [under his leadership]. He said that ‘trade strips our jobs and our wealth’ and offered Mike Pence (a free trader) to help solve the problem,” said Rick Helfenbein, president and chief executive officer at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “I would characterize his trade position as ‘no more.’”
Helfenbein, echoing the broader business community, is concerned about the strident antitrade rhetoric from Trump. Fashion brands and retailers import an estimated $100 billion in apparel and textiles to the U.S., making the trade policies of a new president critical to their supply chains and bottom lines.
He gave credit to Trump for a “strong and measured” speech and a consistent message. The Republican convention’s overall message, on the other hand, was “off target from the opening bell up until Mr. Trump’s speech,” he said. “No harmony, no unity of thought, no vision for the future.”
“The party seems more fractured than ever. It will take years to put this group of Humpty Dumpty Republicans back together again,” he added. “Senator [Ted] Cruz didn’t help the cause with his refusal to endorse. Only Speaker [of the House Paul] Ryan showed some promise for the future.”