Tuesday night’s session of the Republican National Convention departed dramatically from the previous night’s events, proving far less devoted to dread and more consumed with celebration.
But the theme of the session — “Make American Work Again” — was far from dominant or even evident in the evening’s program.
On a bright note: It was the night of the official roll call, when each state gets a moment in the spotlight. As is expected, all of the delegation chairs got to toss off some happy horsefeathers about their home state before announcing their delegate count.
Not a few Americans tune in every four years just to see this ancient ritual played out, with all the wry smiles and indulgent expressions of nostalgia the older voices of the media can muster.
The roll call is entirely superfluous, of course, as the votes cast in primaries and caucuses in the various states now determine the votes of the delegates and, thus, the nomination. But there are always a couple of states with some sort of beef or wrinkle to work out. And this year was no exception.
As expected, this year’s convention officials and staff moved swiftly to shut down any and all efforts to embarrass the nominee or upend his nomination in the eleventh hour. Their tactics were not always pretty, and not a few delegates felt the discomfort of being caught in the middle. But in the end, the nomination was secured on the first ballot.
Trump’s choice for his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was nominated by acclamation.
That left the prime-time hours for speeches, and the combined forces of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee managed to fill the slate, if only in the final days before showtime.
“To be honest, I was surprised to be invited,” said Dana White, the founder and chief of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. “But I was honored, and I wanted to show up to tell you about my friend, the Donald Trump that I know.” So began what must rank as one of the least likely endorsements ever delivered at the national nominating convention of a major American political party.
“In 2001, when my partners and I bought the UFC, it was considered a blood sport,” said White, surprising no one who has witnessed one of his punching-and-kicking competitions.
It turns out Trump helped put ultimate fighting on the map, which explains at least some of White’s gratitude.
It was not so easy to understand why he, along with an avocado grower and a winery operator, featured quite so prominently as prime-time speakers at the Republican National Convention — except that, of course, they were chosen by Trump.
It was the second night of the quadrennial confab, and the second night of celebrating the presumptive nominee. White is a friend, the avocado grower is a friend and a former soap opera star, and the winery bears Trump’s name.
These were not the only featured speakers on Tuesday night. The biggest hit of the night was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who got the arena rocking with his mock trial of Hillary Clinton. Reciting a series of “facts” as he saw them on various policy and crisis scenarios, Christie asked the hall to judge her “guilty or not guilty.” Sure enough, this “jury of her peers” roared back a verdict of guilty on every count. That prompted a chant of “lock her up” that went on for some while and recurred throughout the Christie presentation.
It might be said that Christie was auditioning rather shamelessly for the job of attorney general in a Trump administration, having fallen short of being Trump’s running mate.
Also along for the ride were the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was on stage twice and booed both times, and the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, whose earnest remarks provoked an audience response only at their conclusion.
Ryan made a point of distinguishing his conservatism from Trump’s. He said his notion of conservative politics should be about “widening the circle of respect.” He talked with sympathy about the cycle of poverty, and he even made passing reference to the admonition of Jesus to “go and do likewise” — a Biblical allusion some might take as a veiled criticism of Trump.
At the conclusion of his time, though, Ryan went all in for unity. Whatever the flaws at the top, Ryan seemed to be saying, the party had to pull together to save and promote candidates up and down the ballot. He suddenly made a connection to the audience that had seemed lacking, bringing the delegates cheering to their feet.
Ryan’s speech was another reason for Republicans opposed to Trump, or unsure of their feelings, to maintain good cheer. Ryan seemed to be saying the clouds could be dispelled.
The Ryan move was a natural segue from the main business of the evening, which was the official nominating of the presidential ticket of Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence.
The former was a foregone conclusion, of course, despite a wrinkle in the Rules Committee report on Monday and some confusion about delegate allocation protocols on Tuesday. In the end, all the NeverTrump talk and posturing changed almost nothing. Trump won on the first ballot by nearly 500 votes.
Trump indulged himself Tuesday in another bit of personal celebration. While he appeared at the Cleveland event only via video link to Trump Tower in New York, he could see his adult children were on the floor to announce the New York delegation vote that put him “over the top.” Two of them, Donald Jr. and Tiffany Trump, also addressed the convention from the stage.
Some of the floor remarks turned out to be from a piece by Frank Buckley that appeared in The American Conservative magazine. But that scarcely seemed to matter when Buckley himself revealed on social media he had “contributed” to the speech in question.
This attempt at another gotcha, much like the exposure of Melania Trump’s speech having lifted a passage of Michelle Obama’s corresponding speech in 2008, was arguably valid. But it kept alive the conversation about the Melania speech and the professionalism of the Trump campaign staff.
The mood of the delegates once again drew attention and comment. The boos for McConnell were somewhat jarring, especially given his steadfast opposition to President Obama, including an absolute refusal to consider the president’s appointment of a successor to Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. McConnell has been reluctant to embrace Trump as the party nominee, offering at least as much critique as support. But McConnell had few friends in the hall on Tuesday night and seemed far from comfortable on the stage.
Speaker Ryan was less visibly at odds with the audience, but his remarks about his form and tone of conservatism were largely falling on deaf ears through most of his speech. His talk of reaching out, expanding the circle and granting respect to all were not overcoming the audience’s attention-deficit issues — as evidenced by widespread use of cellphones and handheld computers. It wasn’t until he shifted into an appeal for party unity for the sake of winning as many races as possible in November that a connection was made.
Also attracting some notice on Tuesday night was the appearance of Tiffany Trump, daughter of the billionaire and Marla Maples — a model who was Trump’s second wife.
Tiffany Trump, like her stepmother the night before, lacked specific anecdotes to project the qualities of warmth and generosity she described in her father. But she got closer in certain moments than her stepmother had in providing the necessary details that would have made her story more compelling.