Trump Heads Into General Election Leading a Party He Has Transformed

Both Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris used appearances on Thursday to condemn instances of rioting. In back-to-back television interviews, Mr. Biden said that Mr. Trump was deliberately “pouring gasoline on the fire” of social unrest for his own political purposes, reading out Ms. Conway’s morning remarks as proof.

It may fall to the president to bring clarity to a week of emphatic but somewhat inconsistent messages. Much of the convention has been given over to heaping praise on Mr. Trump and seeking to persuade deeply skeptical female voters to give him another look. But the party’s praise for the president has lacked a consistent theme; some speakers have cast him as an empathetic champion of women in the workplace, and others have hailed him as the “bodyguard of Western civilization.”

Least coherent of all has been the Republican message on the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the prominent convention speakers have ignored the virus or acknowledged it only in passing, even as the U.S. death toll has approached 180,000 and the economic recovery continues to show signs of stalling. When the virus has been a focal point, it has been to reframe the widely criticized federal response as a success story that was responsive to states’ needs.

Mr. Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis has become his most significant political vulnerability in the presidential race, something most of his advisers privately acknowledge, and his speech on Thursday may be among his best remaining chances to defend his record.

Hours before Mr. Trump appeared, Mr. Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, delivered a scorching pre-emptive strike on the president’s record on the crisis. Speaking in Washington, she criticized the Republican convention for having minimized the virus, saying the event was “designed for one purpose: to soothe Donald Trump’s ego.” Giving a point-by-point critique of Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic, Ms. Harris said Americans should recognize the cost of his errors.

“All we needed was a competent president: one who was willing to listen, willing to lead, take responsibility, have a plan, do their job,” Ms. Harris said. “Well, Joe Biden will be that president.”

In the hours before Mr. Trump spoke, the South Lawn of the White House was dotted with chairs placed next to one another, and most people did not wear masks. The campaign distributed them — some attendees wore black masks with “Trump” written in white in all capital letters — but the majority of people opted to eschew face coverings.

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