Tuesday was technically Donald Trump’s night — he officially received the party’s presidential nomination — but as it went on, the speakers at the Republican National Convention honed in on his rival, Hillary Clinton, and not what he would do as president.
The crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland enthusiastically chanted, “Lock her up!” as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie performed a call-and-response indictment. Embracing his background as a prosecutor, the Trump ally outlined stories about Clinton’s record in national and foreign security and about her private email server by asking the audience for its verdict: “Is she guilty or not guilty?”
“We cannot reward incompetence and deceit,” Christie said, arguing that Clinton would bring more of the same from the Obama administration — “but with less charm and more lies.”
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson — who, unlike Christie, was listed as one of the night’s headliners — gave a rambling, off-script speech where he also slammed Clinton by tying her to community organizer Saul Alinsky. Clinton wrote her college thesis on the radical writer, and Carson argued he was someone who “acknowledges Lucifer” and seemed to insinuate Clinton did the same.
“Are we willing to elect as president someone whose role model acknowledges Lucifer?” Carson asked.
Though the night’s theme was supposed to be “Make America Work Again,” speaker after speaker also hammered home criticism of Clinton instead of boasting about Trump’s economic plans and proposals.
Members of Republican leadership and Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. took the stage to criticize the presumptive Democratic nominee as an out-of-touch elitist who was reckless with classified information and dangerous for America. But most of their remarks spent more time knocking Clinton than praising their newly minted nominee.
Trump appeared via video from Trump Tower in New York City where he was expected to introduce Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he made no mention of the Kentucky Republican.
“This is a movement,” he declared. “But we have to go all the way. I’m so proud to be your nominee for president of the United States.”
McConnell took the stage next to address the crowd in Cleveland — where there were many empty seats in the arena and on the floor — and was met with a smattering of boos.
The Senate majority leader didn’t exactly heap praise on Trump either, though, and didn’t mention him at all until several minutes into his speech.
“You know that if Hillary is president, we will continue to slide, distracted y the scandals that follow the Clintons like flies,” McConnell said.
The Senate GOP leader’s main argument was essentially that while President Obama vetoed Republican priorities like repealing health care reform and cutting spending, Trump would approve their legislation.
“With Donald Trump in the White House, Senate Republicans will build on the work we’ve done and pass more bills into law than any Senate in years,” McConnell said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan — who was initially a Trump skeptic but eventually endorsed him — was far better received and eventually roused delegates to their feet. At the beginning, he admitted that the road to the GOP nomination here in Cleveland wasn’t an easy one. He only mentioned Trump twice in his speech, choosing to focus on party unity.
“Have we had our arguments this year? Sure we have — and you know what I call those? Signs of life. Signs of a party that’s not just going through the motions. Not just mouthing new words for the same old stuff,” Ryan said.
The House speaker condemned the way Democrats “talk down to the rest of America” and declared that “2016 is the year America moves on.” And like McConnell, his argument was the Trump would work with Republicans to enact GOP priorities on fighting poverty, reforming the tax code and working to protect veterans.
Two of Trump’s children, Donald Jr. and Tiffany, also spoke on behalf of their father, revealing some personal anecdotes about how he had supported and encouraged them.
Donald Jr., a frequent surrogate on the campaign trail, talked about how his father was his best friend. Greeted with a standing ovation when he finished, Trump said he was confident his dad would work hard for the American people and was ready for the challenge of turning the country around again based on how he had observed his approach to business and helping people in the past.
“I know that when someone tells him that something is impossible, that’s what triggers him into action,” the younger Trump said. “I’ve seen it time and time again. That look in his eyes, when someone tells him it can’t be done … For my father, impossible is just the starting point.”
Tiffany Trump, who just graduated from her dad’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, hasn’t campaigned that much, and admitted that speaking to such a large crowd was still new to her.
But she delivered a strong speech, telling the crowd how her father “has never done anything halfway, least of all as a parent.”
“My dad is a natural born encourager — the last person to tell you to lower your sights or give up your dreams,” Tiffany said, talking about how her dad used to write notes on her report cards, comforted her when a friend passed away and always asked about her extended family. Tiffany is his youngest daughter with Trump’s second wife, actress Marla Maples.
Tiffany Trump’s speech stood in contrast to her stepmother, Melania’s, speech the night before. She spoke more in generalities about her husband, and then became mired in controversy after she appeared to have taken part of her speech from First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech for her husband at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
NPR’s Barbara Sprunt contributed.
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