US Republicans launched their national convention Monday with a full-throated endorsement of President Donald Trump's record and laid out a bleak vision of how American life would change for the worse under a Joe Biden administration.
Trump, having claimed the party's unanimous nomination earlier in the day as he opened his bid for a second term, was portrayed -- perhaps misleadingly -- as a president whose response to the coronavirus pandemic saved thousands of lives and ensured an economic recovery.
Trump's right-wing firebrand son Don Jr, who like many spoke from an ornate theater in Washington, channeled his father's pugilistic style, throwing red meat to the party's base voters by framing the November election as a choice between "church, work and school" and "rioting, looting and vandalism."
Trump Jr -- and nearly all other convention speakers -- made no mention of the 177,000 Americans killed by COVID-19, saying his father "quickly took action" to thwart the pandemic's spread.
"There is more work to do, but there is light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
Black Trump supporters including Senator Tim Scott and former football star Herschel Walker appealed directly to African-American voters, while former UN representative Nikki Haley told her compelling story of being an immigrants' daughter who rose to become governor of South Carolina.
But there was also a stream of dire warnings from participants who said Biden would bring "socialism" and danger to the nation.
"No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats' America," said Patricia McCloskey, who with her husband made headlines in June by brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their St. Louis home.
Trump himself meanwhile doubled down on an increasingly familiar argument: that Democrats want to "steal" the election that polls currently show him losing.
Minutes after the party completed the nomination vote confirming Trump as the candidate for November 3, he appeared at the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, to deliver an often dark speech.
He told Republicans to be on alert for what he claimed was a Democratic plan to rig the contest through increased use of mail-in voting -- a measure Democrats say is needed to protect people from catching COVID-19 in crowded polling stations.
"They are trying to steal the election," he told party delegates, many of whom were wearing masks. "The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election."
Opponents say Trump's increasingly extreme resistance to expanded mail-in voting -- a method already used widely in the United States -- is an attempt to suppress voter turnout, while setting up an excuse to challenge the result if he is defeated.
- Family affair -
Polls show Trump trailing Democratic challenger Biden, who had his convention last week, as Americans turn on the president's handling of the pandemic and subsequent economic chaos.
Trump hopes the convention, which concludes Thursday with his formal acceptance of the nomination, will shift voters' attention from the coronavirus to what he says is the "super V" shaped economic recovery.
Prime time coverage kicked off Monday night with a celebration of "rugged" American individualism and a series of everyday citizens, including Montana small business owner Tanya Weinreis.
She fueled the fear of a Democratic takeover, telling the convention that workers "now face the terrifying prospect of Joe Biden coming after everything we've built."
While incumbents usually keep away from their party conventions until the final night, Trump immediately took over the event in Charlotte, which had been drastically scaled back due to virus precautions.
Trump is expected to make more live television appearances on each of the four days ahead of his acceptance speech at the White House.
His daughter Ivanka is also set to speak, while First Lady Melania Trump addresses the nation from the White House's Rose Garden on Tuesday.
- 'We must fight' -
Biden is tapping into unhappiness with the president's handling of the pandemic, unrest over racial inequality and fear of longterm economic damage from the coronavirus shutdown.
Beyond bread-and-butter issues, Trump's abrasive style, his habit of insulting people in public, his attacks on journalists and almost total inability to talk to Democratic leaders has left the country divided and exhausted.
Trump is attempting to reclaim the high ground with an emphasis on restoring the economy and getting America back to work.
But the sunny tone is already getting overshadowed by Republicans' lurid claims that Democrats want to take away Americans' firearms and unleash anarchy in the streets.
"We must fight to save her now," Republican congressman Matt Gaetz told the convention, speaking of the United States, "or we may lose her forever."