A chaotic first day at the Republican National Convention gave way to an emotional evening centered on national security and capped off by a rousing speech by Donald Trump’s wife, Melania.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee broke tradition and took to the convention stage Monday night to introduce his wife. The hall darkened as Queen’s “We Are The Champions” played as Trump took the stage in a dramatic fashion and was greeted with a hero’s welcome.
Melania praised Trump as a wonderful father and husband who “gets things done” and is “intensely loyal to family, friends, employees, country.”
“He will never, ever give up. And most importantly, he will never ever let you down,” she said. “Donald is, and always has been, an amazing leader. Now, he will go to work for you. His achievements speak for themselves.”
The Slovenian-born former model spoke of how she immigrated to the country and became a citizen, calling it “the greatest privilege on Planet Earth.”
Melania conceded that “the race will be hard fought, all the way to November, and that “there will be good times, and hard times.”
But she laughed that it “would not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama.”
Speakers earlier in the evening underscored the night’s theme — “Make America Safe Again” and featured people touched by the attacks on Benghazi and, affected by crimes by illegal immigrants and focused on protecting law endorsement.
The evening began with a last-ditch effort by the anti-Trump Republicans to force a voice vote to call for releasing delegates, which resulted in competing factions yelling at each other on the floor. The only past GOP presidential nominee who came was Bob Dole. Instead of the usual top Republican lawmakers and past nominees who would speak, Trump turned to reality TV stars and former teen heart-throb actors whose careers had faded.
Pat Smith, the mother of diplomat Sean Smith, who was killed in the 2012 attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, didn’t mince words in pointing the finger at the presumptive Democratic nominee for her son’s death.
“I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son,” Smith said, adding that she couldn’t get anyone at the State Department to answer questions about her son’s death because she wasn’t “immediate family.”
“Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not,” Smith told the crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where many delegate and attendees were shown on television tearing up as she spoke.
“He is blunt, direct and strong. He speaks his mind and his heart,” she continued. “And when it comes to the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism, he will not hesitate to kill the terrorists who threaten American lives.”
Former Benghazi security team members Mark Geist and John Tiegen also recounted that September 11, 2012, attack in detail, which was depicted in Michael Bay’s 13 Hours movie earlier this year.
The two described how they were initially said to stand down but then ran into the siege after State Department security radioed for help. They saved 30 lives that night, they said, but argued that “opportunities squandered when Hillary Clinton failed to protect her people on the ground,” and four Americans subsequently lost their lives.
“Now, we as Americans have the opportunity to elect someone who will make this country safe again. Someone who will have our backs. Someone who will bring our guys home. Someone who will lead with strength and integrity. That someone is Donald Trump,” Geist said.
But even as some of the most damning indictments of the evening were coming from Trump’s chosen speakers against Clinton, the unpredictable Republican couldn’t seem to stop himself from counter-programming. While Smith and others were speaking, Trump called in to Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly to slam former rival Ohio Gov. John Kasich for skipping this week’s convention in his own state.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had one of the most fiery speeches of the night, opening with a forceful defense of law enforcement and condemning recent attacks against them in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.
“When they come to save your life, they don’t ask if you are black or white. They just come to save you!” he said to cheers.
The former 2008 presidential candidate argued Trump was the best to protect the country from increasing terrorist threats and wouldn’t recoil from identifying the attackers.
“In the last seven months, there have been five major Islamic terrorist attacks on us and our allies. We must not be afraid to define our enemy. It is Islamic extremist terrorism,” Giuliani said. “I, for the purposes of the media, I did not say all of Islam. I did not say most of Islam. I said – Islamic extremist terrorism. You know who are! And we’re coming to get you!”
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke also got a rousing reception as he called for America to defend and protect police in the wake of the recent police shootings.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make something very clear: Blue Lives Matter!” the African-American sheriff told the crowd to raucous applause.
“What we witnessed in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and in Baton Rouge was a collapse of social order,” Clark continued. “So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest, and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.”
Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, winner of the Purple Heart for his actions during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan, got some of the loudest applause of the night as he argued Trump would take care of veterans and strengthen the U.S. military.
“The only way we’re going to make America safe again is to have an elite military made up of warriors and prepared by the toughest training that we have to offer,” Luttrell said.
Families whose loved ones had been killed by illegal immigrants were also highlighted.
Mary Mendoza said her son, police officer Brandon Medoza, was “stolen from me” after he was killed by a in a car wreck by someone “who had been living in the country illegally for two decades” and “had no business being in the country.”
“It’s time we had an administration that cares more about Americans than about illegals,” Mendoza said. “A vote for Hillary is a vote that puts Americans life at risk. It’s time for Donald Trump.”
Sabine Durden also told the story of how her son Dominic, a 911 dispatcher, was killed by a drunk driver who was an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who had previously been deported for felonies for grand theft and robbery.
“I have been talking about illegal immigration since 2012, and no one listened— until Donald Trump,” Durden said. “Donald Trump is not only my hero. He’s my lifesaver. Hillary Clinton, or as we know her, ‘Crooked Hillary,’ always talks about what she will do for illegal aliens and what she will do for refugees. Well, Donald Trump talks about what he will do for America!”
Trump also turned to reality TV stars and onetime Hollywood actors to also make his case.
Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson, the first speaker, said the country was in a “tough spot” and that “we need a president who will have our back.”
“I can promise you this, no matter who you are, Donald Trump will have your back,” the long-haired duck-call manufacturer from rural Louisiana said of the billionaire real estate mogul.
“If you’re looking for a job or trying to grow a business like I am, Donald Trump will have your back,” Robertson told the crowd in Cleveland.
Former Happy Days and Charles In Charge actor Scott Baio told the crowd that Trump was a “man who wants to get things done” and “wants to be president for all of us.”
“We can go with Hillary Clinton who wants to continue the same policies that are wrecking the country … or we can go with Donald Trump, a man doing this from the goodness of his heart and genuinely wants to help,” Baio said.
Former Calvin Klein model and soap opera star Antonio Sabato, Jr., acknowledged he wasn’t the usual convention speaker and wasn’t particularly political, but that “my belief in this country and my faith in Jesus Christ have compelled me to speak now.”
“Donald Trump believes in one America, with liberty and justice for all. Having secure borders, protecting our citizens — none of this is hateful,” the Italian immigrant said. “This is the responsibility of the government –and the right thing to do.”
Sabato later revived Trump’s “birtherism” charges, telling ABC News in an interview that he “absolutely” believed President Obama was a Muslim.
NPR’s Barbara Sprunt contributed.