CLEVELAND — After a harsh primary, Donald Trump’s general election campaign officially opened with a warm and personal validation from his wife, Melania Trump, who kicked off the Republican convention by assuring voters that the brash candidate has the character and determination to unite a divided nation.
“If you want someone to fight for you and your country, I can assure you, he is the guy,” Mrs. Trump told delegates in her highest profile appearance of the presidential campaign.
Her husband made a brief, but showy entrance, into the convention hall to introduce her, emerging from shadows and declaring to cheers, “We’re going to win, we’re going to win so big.” He returned to the stage after his wife’s remarks, greeting her warmly with a kiss and cheering her on along with the crowd.
Mrs. Trump’s appearance was a sharp contrast to most of the night’s other speakers, who painted a bleak picture of an American future that they said only her husband can correct. A parade of speakers told emotional stories about loved ones killed while serving in the military or at the hands of people in the United States illegally. And they cast the turbulent times as a direct result of weak leadership by President Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who spent four years in the administration.
“Who would trust Hillary Clinton to protect them? I wouldn’t,” Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said in one of the night’s most fiery addresses.
Many of the party’s past and future stars were glaringly missing from the lineup, underscoring the concerns GOP leaders have with closely aligning themselves with Trump. The businessman has cast aside decades of Republican orthodoxy in his unexpected political rise, creating a crisis within the GOP about its future.
Republican divisions erupted briefly on the convention floor Monday afternoon after party officials adopted rules by a shouted voice vote. Anti-Trump forces seeking to derail his nomination responded with loud and angry chants, though they were quickly quieted and there were no lingering signs of the protests as delegates returned to the cavernous convention hall for the evening program.
Trump hoped the chaos would be little more than a footnote. Despite persistent party divisions, his campaign is confident Republicans will come together behind their shared disdain for Clinton.
Republicans also highlighted at length the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, while Clinton was serving as secretary of state. The mother of one of the victims choked back tears as she personally blamed Clinton for her son’s death and accused her of giving a false explanation for the attack.
“If Hilary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency,” Pat Smith said.
The convention comes amid a wrenching period of violence and unrest, both in the United States and around the world. In a matter of weeks, Americans have seen deadly police shootings, a shocking ambush of police in Texas and escalating racial tensions, not to mention a failed coup in Turkey and gruesome Bastille Day attack in Nice, France. Three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on the eve of the convention’s opening day.
Convention speakers relentlessly cast the troubling times as a result of ineffective leadership by President Barack Obama and Clinton, who spent four years in his administration.
“Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted. Her judgment and character are not suited to be sitting in the most powerful office in the world,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, according to excerpts of her speech released in advance.
Clinton, during remarks Monday at the NAACP’s annual convention, said there was no justification for directing violence at law enforcement.
“As president, I will bring the full weight of the law to bear in making sure those who kill police officers are brought to justice,” she said.
Trump has been vague about how he would put the nation on a different course, offering virtually no details of his policy prescriptions despite repeated vows to be tough.
Campaign chairman Paul Manafort said Trump would “eventually” outline policy specifics but not at the convention. However, Trump said in a Monday night interview with Fox News that his convention speech Thursday would discuss a “major, major” tax cut, immigration, getting rid of burdensome regulations and taking care of veterans.
Yet the line-up of speakers and no-shows for the four-night convention was a visual representation of Trump’s struggles to unify Republicans. From the party’s former presidents to the host state governor, many leaders were staying away from the convention stage, or Cleveland altogether, wary of being linked to a man whose proposals and temperament have sparked an identity crisis within the GOP.
That left Trump with an eclectic array of validators, including Scott Baio and Willie Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty,” who took the stage with an American flag bandanna wrapped around his head.
“No matter who you are, Donald Trump will have your back,” Robertson said as he opened the evening program.
Trump’s team insists that by the end of the week, Republicans will plunge into the general election campaign united in their mission to defeat Clinton. But campaign officials undermined their own effort Monday by picking a fight with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is not attending the convention and has yet to endorse Trump.”
Manafort, in remarks to reporters at a Bloomberg breakfast, called Kasich “petulant” and said the governor was “embarrassing” his party in his home state.
Even some of those participating in the convention seemed to be avoiding their party’s nominee. When House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke to Wisconsin delegates Monday morning, he made no mention of Trump in his remarks.
Ryan, asked at a later event whether Trump was really a conservative, said: “Define conservative; he’s not my kind of conservative.”