CLEVELAND — Donald Trump conjured a dire picture Thursday of an America sliding deeper into poverty, violence and corruption and declared himself the only person who could avert disaster.
Accepting the Republican nomination in Cleveland, the billionaire twice pledged to be a “voice” for working Americans, restore law and order and to confound elites and doubters by winning the White House in November.
“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” Trump said. “My message is that things have to change — and they have to change right now.”
Trump, whose unpredictable campaign has broken every rule of politics, portrayed America as a broken nation that only he can fix.
“I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” he said. “Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.”
Trump’s address was the most crucial moment yet in his transformation from a brash tycoon and reality star with a sometimes vulgar tongue to a politician with an expansive vision of disruptive change who could become President. It offered him a chance to soothe divisions in both the country as a whole and his party, where tensions were exposed Wednesday by Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump.
“Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life,” he said. “Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”
Ivanka Trump introduced her father on the biggest night of his political life.
"For more than a year, Donald Trump has been the people's champion and tonight, he's the people's nominee," she said. "This is the moment and Donald Trump is the person to make America great again."
The evening included historic moments. Tech billionaire Peter Thiel became the first platform speaker ever to tell the Republican National Convention that he was proud to be gay.
"Of course, every American has a unique identity," Thiel said. "I am proud to be gay, I am proud to be a Republican, but most of all I am proud to be an American."
Trump pledged as President to protect LGBT Americans, referencing last month's attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando. As the crowd cheered, Trump departed from his prepared speech and said, "As a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering what I just said."
Trump slammed Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, for "bad judgment" and accused President Barack Obama of widening racial divides.
Trump's acceptance of the Republican nomination represents a stunning moment in American political history --- as the outsider who overturned the Republican establishment leaves Cleveland with his sights firmly on the White House.
His address barely touched on the issue of Republican disunity that plagued the 2016 convention -- culminating in Cruz's dramatic speech Wednesday. Instead, he outlined a broader and loftier argument to millions of Americans watching at home, seizing his best chance yet to present himself as possessed of the qualities and sobriety demanded of a President.
The GOP nominee drew on recent ambushes of police in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and elsewhere to bemoan "violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities."
He portrayed himself as the strongman who could crush the violence.
"When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country," he will say.
Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was asked by CNN's Jake Tapper why Trump was playing up fears of rising crime even though FBI statistics show crime is in decline.
"People don't feel safe in their neighborhoods. I'm not sure what statistics you're talking about," Manafort said, and then took a swipe at the Bureau over its decision not to seek charges against Clinton over her email server.
"The FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they just did with Hillary Clinton," he said.
Rallying delegates from the stage, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also hit out at Clinton.
"She lied, over and over and over, she lied," Priebus said, accusing the former first lady of "perfecting the art of politics for personal gain."
"For Hillary Clinton, the Oval Office is just another cash cow," he said.
Trump will diagnose a struggling nation and lash out at political correctness, corporate spin, "carefully crafted lies" and media myths.
Hitting the theme of illegal immigration that sent his campaign rocketing toward the nomination, Trump said nearly 180,000 undocumented immigrants with criminal records are roaming the country.
"We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities," Trump said.
Citing detailed figures, Trump said nearly four in 10 African-American children were living in poverty, along with two million Latinos. He sketched a gloomy tale of plunging household incomes, ballooning national debt, a gaping trade deficit and decaying roads and bridges.
Turning to a destabilized world, Trump said Americans were far less safe than when President Barack Obama took office and made Clinton his secretary of state.
He claimed America had been thrust through "one international humiliation after another," recalling images of U.S. sailors captured by Iran. ISIS is marching across the Middle East, Libya is in ruins, Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons, and Iraq is a mess, he said.
He warned of the "barbarians of ISIS," conflated "brutal Islamic terrorism" in France with attacks in San Bernardino, Texas, Boston and Orlando.
Trump argued that many of the world's travails could be blamed on Clinton.
"Her bad instincts and her bad judgment -- something pointed out by Bernie Sanders -- are what caused so many of the disasters unfolding today," he said. "This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction terrorism and weakness, but Hillary Clinton's legacy doesn't have to be America's legacy."
When the crowd started changing, 'Lock her Up! Lock her Up!" Trump first nodded, then shook his head. "Lets defeat her!" he said, drawing huge cheers.
He also renewed his softened-but-still-strident line on Muslim immigration, promising to immediately suspend entries from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until vetting could be put in place.
A day after casting doubt on NATO security guarantees in a New York Times interview, Trump vowed foreign nations would be asked to pay for their "fair share" of mutual security burdens.
Only a change in leadership will fix the mess at home and abroad, he said.
"There can be no prosperity without law and order," Trump said, promising to create millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth once once special interests he said favored Clinton had been destroyed.
"She is their puppet, and they pull the strings."
He portrayed himself as the champion of the forgotten men and women of America who work hard but were ignored by elites.
"I am your voice," Trump will say.
Trump also slammed Clinton over her private email server, saying the fact she escaped charges showed "corruption has reached a level like never before."
"Her single greatest accomplishment may be committing such an egregious crime and getting away with it -- especially when others, who have done far less, have paid so dearly," he said.
Trump didn't just castigate Clinton, however. He turned on an old foe, Obama, as well, accusing the President of dealing in "irresponsible rhetoric" and dividing America by race and color.
Hitting a populist note, Trump vowed to renegotiate "terrible" trade agreements with China. Getting unusually specific, he promised tax relief, a national program to build highways, airports roads and to rebuild the military.
"It is time to show the whole world that America Is Back -- bigger, and better and stronger than ever before," he said.
In an unusually personal interlude, Trump paid tribute to his wife Melania and children, reflecting on how proud his father Fred would have been to see him as a presidential nominee and lauded him for his respect for working people and the "dignity of work."
"I have loved my life in business. But now, my sole and exclusive mission is to go to work for our country -- to go to work for all of you," Trump said.
He ended with a warning to all the naysayers who thought he would never win the GOP nomination and still believe he cannot win the presidency.
"Remember: all of the people telling you that you can't have the country you want, are the same people telling you that I wouldn't be standing here tonight," he will say.
"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.