Skip to main content
opinion

To anyone who expected Donald Trump to use the most important speech of the U.S. presidential campaign thus far to reach out to the entire country: Boy, were you wrong.

Except for the shout out to Bernie Sanders supporters on"bad" trade agreements, and an incongruous pledge to protect the LGBTQ community from terrorists, the address Mr. Trump delivered Thursday night in accepting the Republican Party nomination was the meanest, narrowest, most exclusionist, nativist and angriest speech by any major presidential nominee probably ever.

Not even Richard Nixon – whose 1968 convention speech, delivered amid racial unrest and rising crime rates, served as Mr. Trump's template – stooped so low to scare his audience or set himself up as the strongman who could deliver Americans from their living hell.

More from Konrad Yakabuski: Trump, in the key of Nixon

"I've heard this sort of speech a lot in the last 15 years and trust me, it doesn't sound any better in Russian," chess great and Vladimir Putin critic Garry Kasparov tweeted after Mr. Trump's speech.

The portrait Mr. Trump painted of the United States was that of a country overrun by cronyism and crime – much of the latter perpetrated by "illegal immigrants" or terrorists posing as refugees – and whose politicians are either too weak, gullible or corrupt to do anything about it.

A country that is neither respected nor feared abroad and being taken to the cleaners on trade.

"The problems we face now – poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad – will last only as long as we continue relying on the same politicians who created them," Mr. Trump told GOP delegates in Cleveland. "A change in leadership is required to change these outcomes."

It was all chillingly effective, at least among those predisposed to Mr. Trump's strongman traits, hard-core partisans, or voters fed up with career politicians who only seem in it for themselves. They need not constitute a majority of the electorate, but only a plurality of voters who turn out in a handful of battleground states, to enable Mr. Trump to win the White House in November.

John Doyle: Trump, the biggest boaster in the world, needs a new script

As official kickoffs to the presidential campaign, U.S. party conventions set the terms of engagement for the battle to come. In Cleveland, the Trump Republicans showed that theirs will be a take-no-prisoners campaign that will seek to make their Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, already deemed untrustworthy by large majority of U.S. voters, look unfit to be dogcatcher.

Professional political operatives continue to slam the amateurishness and disorganization of Mr. Trump's campaign and dwell on his self-inflicted wounds. But that he has come this far, with almost no paid advertising, while Ms. Clinton floods the airwaves with paid ads and relies on a paid campaign staff numbering in the hundreds, should make Democrats very worried.

Mr. Trump's family – starting with his daughter Ivanka Trump, who introduced her father Thursday night with poise, polish and conviction – makes the Clintons look like the cynical plotters that their critics have always portrayed them as. Say what you want about the Trump kids, with their slicked-back hair and silver spooned-upbringing, they are anything but slackers with a sense of entitlement. They are hard-working optimists, a testimony to his parentage. They could be Mr. Trump's secret weapons on the campaign.

Watch: 'He's colour blind and gender-neutral': Ivanka Trump introduces her father at convention

And it will be a long one. With both parties' conventions being held more than a month earlier than in 2012, this presidential race will be an endurance test – for candidates and for voters. It may come down to which candidate voters are most sick of by November.