Setting aside another day of self-inflicted turmoil, Donald Trump celebrated his formal ascension Tuesday to the Republican presidential nomination — an achievement once seen as highly improbable and not fully assured until the roll call was completed on the second night of the GOP convention.
Republicans hoped the moment would help them correct course after a muddled first day on which the dominant images were a failed revolt by resistant delegates and a plagiarism controversy involving Trump’s wife, Melania.
Unlike Monday night, when amateur speakers dominated the prime-time convention schedule, Tuesday’s headliners were some of the party’s heavyweights, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential candidate viewed by many as the GOP’s intellectual leader.
But once more, a distinct ambivalence about the party’s newly minted standard-bearer was evident. Ryan and others offered only passing praise for Trump, whose main virtue, many suggested, was simply the fact that he was not Hillary Clinton. The mere mention of her name automatically drew angry roars from the delegates on the convention hall floor.
“Not since Baghdad Bob has there been a public figure with such a tortured relationship with the truth,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, referring to Iraq’s famously prevaricating former information minister. “There is a clear choice before us. And it is not Hillary.”
The arm’s-length embrace suggested a party still struggling to unify after a bitterly contested primary season that delivered the most unorthodox nominee either party has nominated in generations.
Fittingly, one of the most forceful testimonials came from one of the most unlikely of speakers, Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, who recalled Trump supporting his mixed martial arts competition in 2001 when others rejected it as a “blood sport.”
“Sometimes he’ll call just to say, ‘Hey Dana, I’ll be watching the fights this weekend,’” White said, vouching for the business tycoon’s regular-guy credentials.
The most stinging case against Clinton came from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor who delivered what he called an “indictment” of her. He led the crowd in a call and response, reciting “charges” based on her foreign policy record and various scandals, asking after each count whether she is “guilty or not guilty.”
“Guilty!” the crowd chanted repeatedly, crossing their arms as if cuffing the former secretary of State, and frequently interrupting Christie’s speech to yell “Lock her up!” in unison.
It was perhaps the week’s most visceral demonstration of the anti-Clinton hatred that seethes from the party’s core activists.
Pro-Trump delegates seemed eager to put Monday’s chaos behind them as his name was put up for nomination and the state-by-state tally began, erupting into chants of “Trump, Trump” as speakers promised he would build a wall on the Southwest border and construct a new political movement too.
Trump’s home state, led by his son Donald Trump Jr., ceremonially awarded him the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, and the band struck up “New York, New York” while delegates danced.
The stage lighted up in gold, with stars bursting, amid a sign declaring Trump “Over the top.”
"Congratulations, Dad. We love you!" Donald Trump Jr. shouted.
Amid the hail of Clinton-bashing, the most intimate and heartfelt testimonials came from Trump’s children. Tiffany Trump spoke of the loving notes her father — “a natural-born encourager ” — wrote on her report cards, starting in kindergarten.
His namesake, Donald Jr., gave a stirring speech that sparked immediate speculation about his own political future; it was a far more detailed and traditional policy address than his father usually delivers.
The younger Trump spoke of “my father, my mentor, my best friend, Donald Trump” as a businessman who “hung out with guys on the construction sites, pouring concrete and hanging sheetrock.”
"For my father, impossible is just the starting point,” Trump Jr. said.
The movement to dislodge the nominee, which was largely crushed in a procedural move Monday, was left gasping during Tuesday’s pomp. Many in the crowd booed when Colorado — ground zero for the effort to thwart Trump’s nomination — announced that it had awarded 31 of its 37 delegates to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Portions of the downtown sports arena sat empty; typically delegates clamor to be in the hall to witness history firsthand. Some inside did little to hide their disappointment at Trump’s ascent or the show of unity they felt forced into.
“We're trying to get behind Trump,” said Chris Herrod, a mortgage officer from Provo, Utah. “We obviously don't want Hillary. But it's a lot harder when there's a spear at our back."
Before Trump could claim the nomination, he had to contend with plagiarism allegations against his wife that festered throughout Tuesday as the campaign, in characteristic fashion, refused to back down or confess error.
In her speech Monday, Melania Trump repeated verbatim portions of the speech that First Lady Michelle Obama delivered at the 2008 Democratic convention.
Normally, these choreographed party pageants give candidates an opportunity to reintroduce themselves to a vast audience, answer questions about perceived weaknesses, demonstrate party enthusiasm after a grueling series of primaries, or attempt all three. Trump’s unscripted style and bare-bones campaign operation — touted as a virtue during the primary — have made it more difficult for him to achieve those goals.
Speeches from would-be first ladies in particular provide a personal accounting that often transcends typical political criticism, so the perceived failing put more pressure on Trump to deliver a flawless second night of the convention.
In addition to Ryan, the schedule included Christie and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Republican presidential candidates themselves.
For all the statements professing party unity, it was clear many of the wounds from the bitter primary season had yet to fully heal.
Ryan and McConnell have repeatedly criticized Trump’s policy positions, many out of step with those of his party, and his rhetoric, which has forced them to answer allegations of racism and nativism.
Ryan, who took the ceremonial role of chairing the evening’s events, did not speak to Trump’s policy goals. Rather, he cast the choice facing voters in November as one between a forward-looking Republican vision — including his own proposals to alleviate poverty, overhaul the tax code and repeal Obamacare — and a stagnant status quo. “Here we are at a time when men and women in both parties so clearly, so undeniably want a big change in direction for America. ... What does the Democratic Party establishment offer? They are offering a third Obama term,” Ryan said to a cascade of boos. "Brought to you by another Clinton."
Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, insisted earlier that the convention was off to a great start and that Trump’s nomination would mark a seminal moment. As usual with the campaign, the joy of that moment was inflected with a grievance aimed at the media.
“All of you who doubted that he could be the nominee will no longer be able to say, ‘Yes, but maybe it won’t happen,’” Manafort told reporters.
But Manafort’s effort at a victory lap lasted only about a minute before reporters began peppering him with questions about Melania Trump’s speech.
Although there was much finger-pointing, the campaign has not said who wrote the speech or whether anyone would face discipline. Nor would it concede plagiarism.
Manafort tried to dismiss questions about it, blaming Clinton and the media for bringing attention to “50 words, and that includes ands and the’s and things like that.”
In fact, the similarities were first reported on Twitter by someone with no evident ties to the Clinton campaign.
Even events beyond the campaign’s control cast a pall over the day’s proceedings. At least a dozen California GOP staff members were quarantined in their hotel rooms after becoming ill with what appears to be a highly contagious norovirus, also known as the cruise-ship virus, according to officials from the California GOP and local health agencies.
Staff writers Michael Finnegan, Lisa Mascaro, Melanie Mason and Seema Mehta in Cleveland and Javier Panzar in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
8:15 p.m.: This article was updated with background.
7:35 p.m.: This article was updated with details and comments throughout.
4:50 p.m.: This article was updated with Trump’s nomination.
This article was originally published at 11:35 a.m.