The Republican National Convention opened Monday with a ruckus by opponents of billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump, the presumptive nominee, and competing marches by Trump opponents and and gun-toting Trump supporters.
But toward the end of the evening the mood changed, with Trump appearing onstage like a rock star, bathed in a smokey haze with Queen’s “We are the Champions” blasting as he walked out to introduce his wife, Melania Trump.
“We’re gonna win. We’re gonna win so much,” he said before turning podium over to her. There was no opponent-bashing by Mrs. Trump — her predecessor on the podium, Rudy Giuliani, took care of that — as she painted a picture of the husband she knows, a man she described as loving, compassionate, and an effective leader.
“If you want someone to fight for you and your country, I can assure you he’s the guy. He will never, ever give up,” she said. “And most importantly he will never ever let you down.”
The closest Mrs. Trump came to being critical of the Democrats was to say “our country is under-performing and needs new leadership.”
Her husband, she said, is the only one who can deliver the change people want.
Her appearance was unusual given how little people — including many of the people in the room — know about the potential future First Lady.
“Given her past, Republicans haven’t exactly gravitated to people like Melania Trump, if we are honest about it,” Cedarville University political scientist Mark Caleb Smith said. “She is a model. If you look at the religious conservatives in the Republican Party they wouldn’t chose a first lady like Melania Trump. So this is a little bit of a stretch for the GOP historically. When you compare her to Mrs. Romney or Elizabeth Dole, this is a different thing all together.”
Smith noted, however, that this is far from a conventional presidential campaign cycle.
Just how unusual this convention is was evident earlier Monday when supporters of Trump and ranking GOP members crushed anti-Trump forces seeking a roll call vote on the rules that govern the convention.
The episode illustrated some of the raw emotions that still exist among members of the party over Trump’s nomination.
Kendel Unruh, leader of the Colorado delegation and the anti-Trump movement, walked out after the convention floor erupted, with protests of “Roll call vote! Roll call vote!” Colorado’s delegation is made up mostly of unbound delegates of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was defeated by Trump in the Republican primary.
“A lot of the states wanted to see a roll call vote on the delegates and the Republican National Committee decided to slam the rules through,” said State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, a delegate for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “I think it’s disappointing that that’s how they’d do it. I think they should be respectful of the process instead of hooting and hollering and making chants, but I think in the end, look, Donald Trump was the nominee.”
Kasich won Ohio and Antani said he expects the delegation will “very respectfully vote for Governor Kasich as we’re required to.”
Interviewed on the convention hall floor U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he originally supported Kasich over Trump, but will support the nominee.
“I wish it were John of course. He was my top choice both because he’s my friend and governor, but also because I think he would have been the better president of anybody running,” Portman said.
The Trump team started off on a bad foot with Ohio’s delegates early Monday after Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, said Kasich should be “embarrassed” for not taking part in the convention.
Manafort said Kasich is “making a big mistake” by not backing Trump and refusing to be a part of convention events inside Quicken Loans Arena.
“He’s hurting his state and embarrassing his state, frankly,” Manafort said.
Kasich is in Cleveland this week meeting with various Republican groups and state delegations but has refused to throw his support behind Trump and will not speak at the convention.
Heavy security was visible inside and outside Quicken Loans Arena with large police patrols — five or more officers — making rounds throughout downtown, and not just near the convention site.
The convention opened just days after three law enforcement officers were shot to death in Baton Rouge, La. The buildup in security was months in the making, but additional last-minute preparations were taken after a man in Nice, France, plowed through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day last week. To guard against a similar style attack, officials brought in snowplows to help block off streets, in addition to fences and about four miles of concrete barricades.
The rallies and protests outside the convention hall throughout the day were mostly peaceful, even as tensions ran high within both the pro- and anti-Trump forces. At a press briefing Monday night, Cleveland Police Chief said bicycle officers moved in several times to quell possible disturbances between opposing groups.
“So far, so good,” he said early in the evening.
A few of the Trump supporters marching outside were seen openly carrying guns as allowed under Ohio law.
The focus of the night’s speeches was “Make America Safe Again,” with more than two dozen speakers lined up to talk about protecting the nation by supporting law enforcement, securing borders, fighting terrorism and strengthening the military.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, sounded a common theme: that America leads from behind and is weaker because of the leadership of President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“We’d like a commander-in-chief who speaks of winning wars and not just ending wars,” Cotton said. “And it would be nice to have a commander-in-chief who can be trusted to handle classified information.”
Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, gave the evening’s most impassioned speech.
“I am sick and tired of the defamation of Donald Trump by the media and the Clinton campaign,” he said. “This is a good man.”
But Sherri Carbo, a delegate from South Lebanon, said she still is not sold on Trump.
“I would like to see a message of unification,” she said, adding, “I would like to see a comprehensive plan on how he would handle ISIS. I would like to hear that from the nominee. I don’t hear anything substantive in my mind.”
Delegate Michelle Schneider, of Indian Hill said Trump’s children are a mark of his character — and one of the reasons she supports him.
“He’s an excellent father,” Schneider said. “Look at his children. Isn’t that your legacy?”
Reporters, Laura A. Bischoff, Jim Galloway, Anthony Shoemaker and The Associated Press contributed to this report
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