Donald Trump and his allies tried on Tuesday to regain momentum after a Republican convention marred by missteps, staging a mock trial of Hillary Clinton that left delegates in the hall shouting, “Lock her up!”
“Is Hillary Clinton guilty or not guilty?” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie asked, again and again, on Syria, Iran, Russia, China, terrorism and her private e-mail server.
And in turn, and on cue, the crowd yelled: “Guilty!”
His son, Donald Trump Jr., offered up the most personal testimonial of the convention so far, recalling a man who has hung out with his workers pouring concrete and hanging sheetrock, while posing Clinton — and not his father — as the riskiest candidate in the race.
“If Hillary Clinton were elected, she would be the first president who couldn’t pass a basic background check,” he said.
It was all intended to begin unifying the party behind Trump, one day after the campaign was marred by a fight over the convention’s rules and questions over whether Melania Trump plagiarized part of her speech Monday night.
Trump appeared on video to predict victory in November after being formally nominated.
“Today has been a very, very special day watching my children put me over the top,” he said, addressing the convention for the second day in a row, this time live via video from New York City that opened with a scene of Trump Tower. “It is something I will never, ever forget.”
Trump was formally and resoundingly nominated by a roll-call vote Tuesday — with his son casting New York’s votes to put him over the top — officially putting down the #NeverTrump rebellion that disrupted the convention’s opening day.
That allowed Trump to have the convention he wanted, as House Speaker Paul Ryan offered his strongest backing yet for his party’s standard-bearer. Ryan, who had withheld his endorsement from Trump for nearly a month, had continued to keep his distance, at times criticizing the billionaire’s more controversial remarks.
That caution fell away Tuesday, with Ryan predicting that at the next State of the Union, “You’ll find me right there on the rostrum with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump.”
Party leaders concentrated their fire on Clinton.
“I am here to tell you Hillary Clinton will say anything, do anything, and be anything to get elected president,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a prime-time speech. “Hillary has changed her positions so many times it’s impossible to tell where conviction ends and ambition begins.”
The evening’s proceedings followed
a day of controversy over Melania Trump’s use of passages nearly identical to Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic convention speech, adding to the pressure on two of Trump’s children, Tiffany and Trump Jr. The stumble by the campaign, coming on the heels of other missteps, also undercut Trump’s efforts to portray himself a skilled executive and manager. Tuesday night’s speakers were left with the task of restoring that image.
Tiffany focused on Trump’s role as a “natural-born encourager,” saying she had saved all of her report cards for “the sweet notes he wrote on each and every one of them.”
“Donald Trump has never done anything halfway, least of all as a parent,” she said.
More importantly for party unity, Ryan, McConnell and a group of Senate freshmen took the stage to make a policy pitch on the importance of taking back the White House.
Ryan has been an
unenthusiastic endorser of Trump, given their stark differences on issues such as trade and immigration. Ryan also has been critical of the rhetoric Trump has used during the campaign.
On Tuesday, Ryan said the party’s differences are “signs of life, signs of a party that’s not just going through the motions” while Clinton is offering “a third Obama term.”
McConnell has been more measured than Ryan in his criticism of the nominee. But McConnell has also repeatedly urged the billionaire to run a more serious campaign and avoid insulting minorities and attacking his fellow Republicans.
Both spent more time tonight prosecuting the case against Clinton and congressional Democrats than touting the virtues of their own nominee.
Ryan also touted his own agenda, while McConnell pointed to the fight over the Supreme Court with the vacancy opened up by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Most of the party’s senators who are facing tough re-elections aren’t attending the convention. But one, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, reversed earlier plans to skip the event for the opportunity to speak in prime time.
Johnson, like Trump a businessman who entered politics later in life, accused Clinton of lying repeatedly.
“If we can’t trust her to tell us the truth, how can we possibly trust her to lead America?” he asked, accusing her of lying about Benghazi and backing a failed policy of “peace through withdrawal,” leading to the rise of Islamic State and terrorist attacks around the globe.
“Our future hangs in the balance. We must unify, work tirelessly, and together, save this great nation,” he said.
National security and Clinton are the two subjects that have most unified Republicans this week.
“It doesn’t have to be like this — we shouldn’t have to live in fear,” Johnson said.
After Republican leaders squashed efforts to change the convention’s rules, the formal roll call on the floor went off with Trump triumphant as expected.
Ken Cope, a delegate from Midlothian, Texas who originally supported Texas Senator Ted Cruz, said that his party needs to back Trump rather than inject the risk of greater division.
“That risk is a foolish risk we don’t need to take. We can win this election and we will win this election,” he said. “We’ve got to come through this thing unified.”
Even so, the vote still showed the divisions in the party, with the District of Columbia delegation’s stated votes for Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich wiped out and replace by votes for Trump under the rules.
Kasich has refused to attend the convention while giving interviews continuing to slam Trump’s rhetoric.
End of #NeverTrump?
On the floor, the anti-Trump movement ended with a whimper.
Dissident Kendall Unruh, a delegate from Colorado, said she realized it became too late in the process to mount a successful challenge to Trump and put another name in contention. She said delegations were registering small displays of displeasure she said were in protest to what she called an erroneous count of delegate votes.
“He made sure this one was rigged,” Unruh said of Trump. “The fact that he called the system rigged meant he was projecting onto others what he himself does,” Unruh told reporters on the convention floor. “He’s going to do whatever it takes for the system to be rigged enough to win.”
And win he did.