By Eric Bradner
CLEVELAND — Donald Trump painted a picture of a dystopian America — and sold himself as the only one who can fix it.
As he accepted the Republican nomination here Thursday night, Trump delivered tough talk, promising to eradicate crime, build a border wall, defeat ISIS, rejuvenate the economy, and prod U.S. allies to step it up or else.
“I’m with you,” Trump said. “I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”
Here are CNN’s takeaways from 2016’s Republican National Convention:
Trump’s style of ‘presidential’
Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence compares Trump to Ronald Reagan — but on stage Thursday night Trump was no happy warrior.
Trump channeled Americans’ grievances at home and abroad, pinning blame for spikes in violence and drugs on undocumented immigrants, casting the battle on terrorism as one being lost, and demanding a return to law and order.
This is what presidential means to Trump. To his critics, it will come off as vacant and dictatorial. But to his backers, it’s the very embodiment of they’ve been thinking, but not feeling welcome by society to say.
The speech that ran more than 75 minutes was signature Trump, offering America a prime-time look at his ability to channel voter anger that won him the nomination.
No wonder Trump spooks party loyalists. This was no Bush speech. Trump called for a much more activist government — intervening regularly in international economics, cracking down ferociously on illegal immigration, and even taking special care to prevent LGBT Americans from targeted attacks.
Nighttime in America
Channeling Richard Nixon, Trump insisted that he’d preside over “a country of law and order.” He pledged — without explaining how he’d fulfill the promise — that crime would drop as soon as he took office.
Trump cast the country as in “a moment of crisis.”
“The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country,” he said.
Trump spent the most time on immigration — touting his call for a U.S.-Mexico border wall (with chants of “build that wall!” breaking out occasionally) and making clear it’s the issue that’s reached him personally.
“Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more — nothing even close, I have to tell you — than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our border,” Trump said.
“Which we can solve — we have to solve it,” he said. “These families have no special interests to represent them. There are no demonstrators to protest on their behalf.”
Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper after the speech whether Trump’s remarks were dark, campaign chairman Paul Manafort signaled Trump truly does see the country as desperately needing saving. “It wasn’t dark,” Manafort said, “it was reality.”
A nudge toward LGBT acceptance
The Republican Party wasn’t ready this year to moderate its platform’s language on same-sex marriage or transgender rights.
But some of its delegates cheered nudges in the direction of LGBT acceptance — including one from the party’s nominee — on Thursday night.
When Trump promised to protect LGBT citizens from attacks like the shooting at an Orlando nightclub that left 49 dead, the crowd cheered, and Trump ad-libbed.
“I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said,” he said. “Thank you.”
The crowd broke into a chant of “Help is on the way.”
Trump’s speech came after PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel told the audience he is “proud to be gay” and urged the GOP to drop its “fake culture wars.”
“Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems,” Thiel said, getting big cheers when he read the words that were capitalized on his Teleprompter: “WHO CARES?”
It’s important to note: These were moments. They could reflect a change in attitude on policy — but it hasn’t happened yet.
An introspective Trump
The famously braggadocious and in-the-moment candidate offered a few rare glimpses inside his own head.
Late in the speech, Trump offered a rare biographical detail that wasn’t about his own business history — discussing the origins of the billionaire’s working-man appeal.
“My dad, Fred Trump, was the smartest and hardest working man I ever knew. I wonder sometimes what he’d say if he were here to see this and to see me tonight,” he said.
“It’s because of him that I learned, from my youngest age, to respect the dignity of work and the dignity of working people,” Trump said. “He was a guy most comfortable in the company of bricklayers, carpenters, and electricians and I have a lot of that in me also. I love those people.”
Another moment designed as a nod to evangelical Christians who’d supported him came with an admission about their support. “I’m not sure I totally deserve it,” Trump said, going off-script.
Trump gives no quarter to the old guard
Trump’s speech came with an olive branch for evangelicals and a mention of the National Rifle Association. It was rife with “America First” themes and calls to rescue the working class.
Nowhere to be found: Anything for the Jeb Bush wing of the Republican Party.
Trump showed no interest in addressing fiscal policy. His indication he’d break from NATO unless smaller countries stepped up their efforts left neoconservatives apoplectic. His insistence on renegotiating every trade deal, and swiftly enforcing trade rules with any and every ounce of authority he can muster, would have fit in a Bernie Sanders speech.
The Republican nominee flouted conservative orthodoxy all night, betting he has little to gain courting those establishment types. Instead, he trashed their hold on American politics, promising to fight for the little guy instead — because he’s big enough himself that he has nothing to lose.
Ivanka, the future candidate
Trump was introduced Thursday night by his daughter-turned-confidante Ivanka — perhaps the speaker Republican delegates were most eager to see besides the nominee himself.
Her biggest strength: Trump’s composed, well-spoken daughter — a powerful figure in her own right — could validate her father with women, who at this stage polls show holding overwhelmingly negative views of him.
Ivanka Trump touted her father as “colorblind and gender-neutral,” and made a lengthy call for equal pay for women, saying her father has a personal record of promoting female figures within the Trump Organization.
“Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career,” she said. “He will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this right alongside of him.”
Her speech would’ve fit at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next week. It left social media buzzing about her own political prospects.
Trump spoke of her father more in professional than personal capacities — though she recalled, as a child, “constructing miniature buildings with Legos while he did the same with concrete, steel, and glass.”
Pence delivered a solid speech Wednesday night, and Trump’s friend and fellow businessman Tom Barrack delivered a wedding toast-style stemwinder Thursday night.
But only a Trump can sell a Trump.
It was impossible to tune into the GOP convention without noticing just how thoroughly Trump’s campaign is a family affair.
The most effective speeches of the week came from Trump’s kids: Ivanka, Donald Jr., Eric and Tiffany all captured the audience’s attention. And his youngest son, Baron, came onto the stage with wife Melania at the end of the night Thursday.
Trump’s children’s speeches were mostly short on personal anecdotes — the kinds of revealing stories about their father that Trump himself often seems uncomfortable (cut with) sharing.
But their approach to the week in Cleveland — eating dinners together, walking into the arena together, staring down Ted Cruz together — left the feeling that voters are getting an entire clan. And voters might like the rest of that clan just as much — or maybe even more — as the nominee himself.
Plagiarism controversy steps on message early
The convention got off to a rocky start message-wise when a portion of Melania Trump’s Monday night remarks — a testimonial to her husband’s values — turned out to be plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
It was a mess made worse by the 36 hours of denials and deflections. Trump’s advisers spent Tuesday pointing fingers at one another, while RNC strategist Sean Spicer invoked “Twilight Sparkle from ‘My Little Pony'” in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, to attempt to demonstrate that similar phrases have come from a host of public figures.
That ended Wednesday, when Meredith McIver, a family friend and writer for the Trump organization, issued as statement saying she was the person responsible for lifting phrases for Melania’s speech. McIver apologized and offered to resign, but said the Trumps did not accept her resignation.
For a candidate who’s a master of stagecraft and whose selling point is his competency, it was a troubling signal that his campaign was struggling to pull off a pre-planned event over which it exerted total control.
#NeverTrump is nevermore
The anti-Trump movement was crushed on the convention floor in one epic, made-for-TV moment.
Forget the rules fights of the last two weeks, all won by Trump’s camp. The real battle began when Ted Cruz took the stage Wednesday night and refused to endorse Trump, telling delegates to “vote your conscience.”
Cruz was booed off the stage in a dramatic moment of political theater.
Trump’s counter-attack during the speech was carefully orchestrated. Cruz had showed Trump’s campaign his speech two hours before he took the stage, and on the convention floor, Trump floor whips were seen actively encouraging the booing that helped drown out the end of his remarks.
Trump also walked into the arena as Cruz’s speech concluded, pulling the national television cameras off the Texas senator and onto himself.
Cruz had been outmaneuvered one final time in the 2016 campaign, and opponents of Trump were out of options to block his nomination or even voice their opposition at his convention.
Philadelphia, here we come
With the RNC over, the political circus heads to Philadelphia and the Democratic convention.
Hillary Clinton and a vice presidential nominee to be named shortly will have four days of theater to respond to Trump.
The plan for Democrats is clear. The party’s two most recent presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, will tout Hillary Clinton’s ability to carry their party’s torch.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, will fire up the liberal base — talking about some of the fear and economic uncertainty Americans feel.
Everyone will hit Trump as dangerous to the future of America.
But as wild as the Republican convention was, Democrats might have just the opposite problem. Their challenge: finding ways to make things unpredictable.