CLEVELAND — Republicans gaveled their convention to order Monday and made final preparations to place their future in the hands of Donald Trump, but their quest for party unity fell short as chaos erupted on the Republican National Convention floor.
Anti-Trump delegates attempted to force a roll call vote that would allow individual delegates to ignore the primary results in their home states and instead vote their conscience. But the rebellion was quashed, likely the last gasp of a Never Trump movement, and paved the way for the coronation of Trump as the GOP nominee this week.
Trump himself strode to the stage late Monday to the strains of Queen’s “We are the Champions” as he introduced his wife, Melania, during prime time. She followed several speakers who highlighted the unsettled mood around the country and reminded viewers of the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, while the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, was secretary of state.
Melania Trump promoted a message of inclusiveness, a sentiment that was rarely expressed by a candidate who has built a campaign on dire warnings about Latino and Islamic immigration.
“Donald intends to represent all the people, not just some of the people,” she said. “That includes Christians and Jews and Muslims, it includes Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians, the poor and the middle class.”
But the earlier tensions on the convention floor over an attempt to allow a vote against Donald Trump created an inauspicious start of a four-day convention that is meant to project unity and offer viewers a more positive view of the most unorthodox, unlikely, and inexperienced candidate in recent memory.
“Roll call vote! Roll call vote!” delegates shouted as the rebellion started, as others yelled back, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
For several minutes, no one stood at the podium in the glitzy Quicken Loans Arena and no one controlled the convention.
“I have no idea what’s going on right now,” Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who had been leading the anti-Trump effort, told reporters. “This is surreal.”
Trump allies and top party officials stifled the final insurrection attempt by the Never Trump movement by persuading delegates from several states to withdraw their signature from petitions. The Rules Committee then declared that stop-Trump forces had failed to force a floor vote. The maneuvering prompted the Colorado delegation — a crucial general election battleground state — to temporarily walk out of the convention in protest. Several other states were considering similar actions.
“What are they afraid of?” Colorado delegate Brita Horn said after she walked off the convention floor. “I am not anti-Trump but I want him to earn our vote. We just want some transparency.”
The successful effort to halt the rebellion featured allies of the outsider candidate, who won the primary based on anti-establishment anger, using their control of the gavel and raw insider leverage to subdue dissent. They derailed the effort on a voice vote.
“The ironic thing is the Washington establishment that Trump used to vilify are now working hand in hand with the Trump campaign to keep the status quo,” said Steve Lonegan, a New Jersey Republican who was leading a super PAC funding the delegate revolt.
The result of the party power play, however, meant that little stood in the way of Trump’s nomination Thursday night. The candidate made a brief appearance on stage Monday night to introduce his wife, who broke from her usual quiet, background role and gave a prime-time speech to the delegates.
She vouched for her husband’s softer side, saying he is an intense fighter but also has compassion that is often overlooked.
“He is tough when he has to be, but he’s also kind and fair and caring,” Melania Trump said. “This kindness is not always noted. But it is there for all to see.”
Donald Trump himself displayed rare brevity. He emerged from a cloud of vapor on stage and spoke for less than a minute, introducing his wife after claiming, several times, “We’re going to win so big.”
Trump now has an opportunity to rebrand his campaign in a way that is more attractive to a general election audience. One looming question is whether the pick of Mike Pence as his running mate — a choice designed to calm fears of Republican Party faithful — is the beginning of a more disciplined candidacy, or an aberration.
Melania Trump’s appearance capped a day that featured reality television stars (Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty”) and 1980s heartthrobs (Scott Baio, of “Charles in Charge” fame) as well as politicians current (Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas) and past (former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani ).
The sheriff of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, David Clarke, energized the crowd by declaring, ‘‘Blue Lives Matter in this country.’’ It was an explicit reference to the recent deaths of two black men at the hands of police officers and the slaying of officers in Texas and Louisiana.
During the evening session, speaker after speaker highlighted what they called dangers of a Clinton presidency. Some pointed to their children who were killed by illegal immigrants. Others recounted their experiences during the 2012 attacks on the US outpost in Benghazi.
“I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son,” said Patricia Smith, whose son Sean died in that attack. “That’s right — Hillary for prison. She deserves to be in stripes.”
Giuliani gave one of the most impassioned speeches of the night, shouting into the microphone and working the crowd into a fervor.
“I am sick and tired of the defamation of Donald Trump by the media and by the Clinton campaign!” he yelled. “I am sick and tired of it!”
Many of the party’s heaviest hitters, including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, are sitting out the convention. Intra-party feuding continued on the airwaves Monday. Trump ally Newt Gingrich on Monday said that the Bush family is behaving “childishly” for not getting behind Trump and refusing to show up at the convention.
“The Republican Party has been awfully good to the Bushes and they’re showing remarkably little gratitude,” Gingrich said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Shortly after RNC chairman Reince Priebus gaveled the convention to order at 1 p.m., the party tried to project an image of unity: a live band played the first song of the convention, “Happy Together,” with a bouncy refrain of “So happy together, we’re happy together.”
Anti-Trump forces who raised millions of dollars throughout the spring in a failed effort to derail Trump during the primary came to Cleveland with an 11th-hour strategy. They set up a “command center” in downtown Cleveland, minutes away from the Quicken Loans Arena.
In order to force the fight to the floor, a majority of delegates from seven states had to sign a petition. Organizers said that nine states, among them Maine, had the necessary signatures. Former US Senator Gordon Humphrey, from New Hampshire, filed the paperwork with convention officials.
But then the arm-twisting began. Some delegates removed their names from the petition and the number of states with eligible petitions dropped to six — one short of the number needed.
Earlier, while walking out of a Rules Committee meeting, chairman Bruce Ash of Arizona, compared the dissents to a group of soldiers fighting a lost cause.
“This is the last ragtag remnants of the Japanese army who were found on the island of Saipan three later because they hadn’t heard the war is over,” Ash said. “Donald Trump is our presumptive nominee. He became our nominee and he will win in November irrespective of a few people who have bruised egos from the contests that we have had over the past several months.”
Janet Fogarty of Scituate, one of three Massachusetts members on the rules committee, also declared the GOP civil war over Trump to be over.
“The fights have been fought and it is time for the party to come together,” she said.
About 15 members of the defeated Delegates Unbound movement joined their leader, Dane Waters, a Florida Republican, for dinner at a restaurant a half-mile from the Quicken Loans Arena.
The group included delegates from Texas, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Humphrey, a former senator from New Hampshire, called the floor fight an “ugly spectacle” and a “shameful moment” for the GOP.
“We’ve now seen the Donald Trump presidency in prototype and it’s rule by force,” said Humphrey, who had supported Governor John Kasich’s candidacy. “Trump and his delegates might not be fascist but today they put on a very good act. This is a crisis moment.”
Asked what he was having for dinner, Humphrey said, “Mainly I’m drinking.”