CLEVELAND — Fewer than 12 hours after the balloons dropped on his Cleveland coronation, signalling the official start of the general election campaign, Republican nominee Donald Trump took another unexpected turn Friday and focused his attention backward, on primary opponent Ted Cruz.
On a day of the week during which presidential candidates typically try to maximize the positive bounce from their conventions, Trump instead decided to settle a score with the Texas senator who refused to endorse Trump earlier in the week.
“He’ll come and endorse — it’s because he has no choice. But I don’t want his endorsement,” Trump said. “Ted, stay home. Relax. Enjoy yourself.”
Trump also downplayed the discord, even as he stoked it.
“This was probably one of the most peaceful, one of the most beautiful, one of the most love-filled conventions in the history of conventions,” Trump said. “When they talk about unity, I gotta tell you, that was unity. . . . The party has just come together.”
Trump had looked to the convention to help unify the party and demonstrate that he has the discipline and temperament for the White House. But Republicans left Cleveland puzzling out how much was gained — and then, with the Cruz contretemps, ran headlong into another day of distractions.
David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader from Louisiana, made additional unwelcome news by singing Trump’s praises as announced plans to run for the Senate.
Friday amounted to the start of weekend-long halftime show, between the Republican convention in Cleveland and Hillary Clinton’s Democratic National Convention, which opens Monday in Philadelphia.
As attention began to pivot to the Democrats, Clinton was poised to name her vice presidential running and did so Friday evening, choosing Tim Kaine, the senator and former governor of Virginia. The announcement appeared to have been delayed by news of the terror attack Friday in a Munich shopping mall.
While Trump focused on fear in the country, Democrats will focus on making the country fear Trump.
Already on Friday, some Democrats were beginning to brand Trump as a would-be autocrat, because of his boast during his nomination acceptance speech that he is the only person who can lead the nation out of what he described as chaos and terror threats.
“Is this guy running for president or dictator?” Senator Bernie Sanders, whose supporters Trump has been trying to court, wrote on Twitter.
Trump’s speech Thursday night, which dwelled on voter anger and anxiety, also gave his enemies within the Republican Party plenty of ammunition. Some Republicans even viewed the relentless stream of attacks on Clinton, by Trump and many of the convention speakers before him, as having gone awry.
“It was a horror show,” said Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican strategist who helped put together the 2012 GOP convention but adamantly opposes Trump. “It’s incredibly negative. The idea of a bunch of people chanting, ‘Lock her up!’ is about as appealing to most people as human sacrifice.’’
“The whole convention was about Trump’s ego and not any sort of vision for electing anyone,” he added.
But Henry Barbour, a Republican national committeeman from Mississippi, was willing to forgive the Trump campaign’s rocky showing in Cleveland.
‘‘Every convention, every campaign has mistakes, and that’s OK,’’ he said, in comments reported by the Associated Press. ‘‘It’s July. There is ample time for folks who need time to understand why Donald Trump is a better pick than Hillary Clinton. He’s not George Washington, not Abraham Lincoln, but he’s a heck of a lot better than Hillary Clinton.’’
Trump failed to make good on a promise that his convention would deliver record TV ratings, as he has during the Republican primary debates. Some 31.5 million viewers tuned in to his speech, only slightly ahead of the 30.3 million who watched Mitt Romney in 2012 but far below the nearly 40 million who watched John McCain in 2008.
Trump’s acceptance speech was read from a teleprompter, and he largely stuck to the script. But on Friday morning, he was back to old Trump, the one who never shies from a fight, even when no fight is required.
With his running mate Mike Pence — who had backed Cruz during the primary — standing awkwardly behind him in Cleveland, Trump rehashed old battles with Cruz, such as the unflattering photo of Cruz’s wife that Trump distributed on his Twitter account. He also returned to his discussion of a tabloid news story alleging Cruz’s father met with Lee Harvey Oswald and may have had a role in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Trump cited a story in the National Enquirer, a tabloid that he thinks should have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and “should be very respected.”
“I know nothing about his father. I know nothing about Lee Harvey Oswald. But there was a picture on the front page of the National Enquirer, which does have credibility.”
“All I did is point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast. Now Ted never denied that it was his father.”
Cruz and his campaign did, in fact, deny it. The claim was also ruled false by several independent fact-checkers.
While Trump spurred waves of new voters to cast ballots in the Republican primaries, one concern for many Republicans is that some of his supporters are far out of the mainstream.
On Thursday night, Duke tweeted, “Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders! Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!”
On Friday morning, Duke announced he was running for US Senate in Louisiana and again praised Trump.
‘‘I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years,” Duke said in his announcement video. “My slogan remains America first.’’
Trump also uses the phrase America first.
“Our plan will put America first,” Trump said during his acceptance speech. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”
In February, Trump did not immediately disavow Duke during an interview on CNN, which triggered concern about his willingness to identify himself with white nationalists. He later said he did not accept Duke’s support.
“As you know, Mr. Trump has disavowed David Duke and will continue to do so,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an e-mail on Friday.
Trump on Friday canceled an event in Akron and instead appeared with Pence at a hotel in Cleveland. He said he didn’t mind that some top Republicans skipped the convention.
“I ran as an outsider, I didn’t want anybody. Now I have guys like Mike Pence,” Trump said. “See now if I don’t win, I’m going to blame Mike, right?”
Pence chuckled in the background.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.