U.S. President Donald Trump took center stage at the Republican National Convention Monday night and immediately signaled that defending his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis is paramount in winning a second term. On the first night of the nationally televised Republican convention, Trump was shown greeting health care workers at the White House who – against the views of many Americans — praised his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “You’re an incredible group,” Trump told several health care workers and two COVID-19 survivors who recovered from the infectious disease that has killed more than 177,000 people in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data, the most of any nation in the world. “We have to make this China virus go away,” Trump told the group in the East Room of the White House, an apparent acknowledgement that the unrelenting virus is also a threat to his reelection to a second term. None of the group was wearing a face mask or socially distancing from the others as health experts have advised.   Later, in the Diplomatic Room, Trump greeted a half-dozen people who had been held prisoner overseas, all of whom had been released after U.S. diplomatic efforts during Trump’s presidency. Michael White, held for two years in Iran, told Trump, “You were able to get me out of that prison. It was amazing.”White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, left, Vice President Mike Pence and chief of staff Mark Meadows stand off stage as they listen to President Donald Trump speak at the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Aug. 24, 2020.Democrats released an ad mocking the Republican convention just as Republicans staged counter events last week while the Democrats met. “Welcome to the RNC, Republican National Chaos,” the narrator says in the 30-second spot, which opened with a scene of downtown Charlotte. “Because Trump is meeting the COVID moment with job-destroying incompetence and deadly mismanagement, students and teachers are left to themselves, the jobless left without a lifeline, grandparents left to die alone, an economy left to perish.” A parade of Republicans, most speaking from the empty Mellon Auditorium a short distance from the White House, praised Trump and called for his reelection. His oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., described his father’s Democratic opponent in the November 3 election, former Vice President Joe Biden, as “the Loch Ness monster of the swamp,” a reference to the federal government, and a threat to U.S. democracy.  The younger Trump called Democrats the party of “rioting, looting and vandalism” during protests against racial injustice in the U.S. “Trump’s America is the land of opportunity,” he declared. For President Trump, the four days of the Republican convention are crucial, a chance through saturation television coverage for him to convince enough American voters that he deserves another four-year term when national polls often show voters disapprove of his performance as the country’s chief executive during the past 3½ years.Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks during the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Aug. 24, 2020.Many voters have voiced their discontent about the chaotic Trump presidency and his uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic. Others have grown weary of his thousands of tweets with barbed comments aimed at anyone he disagrees with or attacks him. He has 10 weeks to make his case before Election Day, but the polls show Biden leading by an average of 7.6 percentage points, according to an aggregation of polls by the Real Clear Politics website. However, Biden’s edge is a bit thinner in several key battleground states that could once again prove decisive in the election.  Only two U.S. presidents have lost reelection contests after a single term in office in the past four decades. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes but won the election by narrowly capturing three states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — that Democrats had usually won. However, polls show Biden is leading in all three states. The U.S. president is chosen in the Electoral College, the country’s indirect form of democracy where the overall national outcome is determined by the winner in each of the 50 states, not the national popular vote. Earlier in the day, the more than 300 delegates who gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the business portion of the convention renominated Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a second four-year term, with the U.S. leader appearing shortly after that to thank the party stalwarts. Trump called the November 3 vote “the most important election in the history of our country.” He contended that the only way Democrats could defeat him is through a rigged election using mail-in-ballots sent to voters.  “They’re trying to steal the election,” Trump declared without evidence. “Suppose they don’t mail them to Republican neighborhoods.”  Trump’s visits with the health workers and the freed prisoners marked the first of four straight evenings he plans to speak to the mostly virtual convention, with the focus shifting from Charlotte to Washington, and culminating Thursday with his renomination acceptance speech at the White House. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, and Nikki Haley, an Indian American and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also spoke on his behalf. Trump, as president, has been a vocal supporter of gun ownership rights as sanctioned by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But as many Democrats call for limitations on gun ownership, Republicans brought the issue to the fore with a pair of controversial speakers, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a St. Louis, Missouri, couple who brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters as they walked past their mansion in a June demonstration against racial injustice. The McCloskeys said they felt threatened by the protesters, but a St. Louis prosecutor charged both with a felony, unlawful use of a weapon.Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley leaves after speaking during the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Aug. 24, 2020.Mark McCloskey said, “Donald Trump will protect your God-given right to protect your homes and family.” His wife said, “Your family will not be safe with the radical Democrats’ agenda.” Democrats last week conducted their convention entirely virtually, with a collection of taped and live presentations, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Republican delegates in Charlotte were subject to regular temperature checks and daily testing for COVID-19. All were required to be tested before they left their states, and throughout Monday’s events they were wearing devices to enable contact tracing. A total of 336 delegates gathered at the convention to renominate Trump. The size of the Republican gathering is downscaled from past conventions, just not as much as the Democrats’ conclave. Gone at both party conventions are the thousands of delegates who have crammed into arenas and stadiums at quadrennial gatherings in years past. Biden, as he accepted his party’s presidential nomination last week, contended that Trump had created a “season of darkness in America” in which he had failed to control the unrelenting pandemic while millions of workers have lost their jobs. “We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege,” Biden said. Trump claimed that “the Democrats held the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history.” He accused them of “attacking America as racist and a horrible country that must be redeemed.” But he wasted no time in attacking Biden after the delegates cast their votes to renominate him. As he has often done in recent times, Trump attacked his Democratic opponent as a puppet of the radical left, warning that if the former vice president is elected in November, “Your American dream will be dead.” Republicans are billing their convention “Honoring the Great American Story.” The Trump campaign said that each night will include remarks from political leaders as well as “everyday Americans whose stories are filled with hope and patriotism.” All three living former Democratic presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — along with 2004 nominee John Kerry and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, spoke on behalf of Biden at the Democratic convention. But neither former Republican President George W. Bush nor 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who now is a Utah senator and a Trump critic, is on the Republican convention schedule.  More than two dozen former Republican lawmakers announced their support for Biden as the Republican convention started. 

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