CLEVELAND —Donald Trump was formally nominated for the presidency by Republican delegates here on Tuesday night, a landmark moment in American political history that capped the business mogul’s surprising conquest of the GOP.
Trump formally reached the threshold of 1,237 delegates at 7:12 p.m. Eastern time, with votes cast by delegates from his home state of New York.
But the rest of the evening demonstrated that Trump has seized his party’s nomination — but not yet won the battle for its heart and its ideas. The speakers seemed to largely avoid the policy proposals that brought Trump so much success: building a wall on the southern U.S. border, barring foreign-born Muslims from entering the country, tearing up trade deals and deporting undocumented immigrants en masse.
Some also often avoided mentions of Trump himself. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) spoke at length about his own vision for the country — but rarely mentioned the nominee, who opposes some of Ryan’s signature ideas about reform of spending programs.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the one speaker who seemed to electrify the convention-hall crowd. He did it by talking not about Trump, but about the presumptive opponent: former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, ticked off examples of what he said were Clinton’s bad judgments on foreign affairs, and her use of a private email server to handle government business. After each example, Christie turned the audience into an ad hoc jury: “Guilty or not guilty?”
“Guilty!” the audience roared. They repeatedly broke into chants of “Lock her up!”
That has been the emotional high point of a night that was theoretically dedicated to the economy, with the message “Make America Work Again.” Some of the speakers did focus on that theme, including a waterproofing entrepreneur from the Bronx. But many others veered to other topics, including Clinton, again and again.
If Republicans couldn’t agree on what a Trump presidency would be like, they could agree that Clinton’s would be awful. Each speaker sought to find a new way of underlining the danger Clinton posed.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson used a biblical reference: He noted that Clinton had written about Saul Alinsky, a community organizer for liberal causes. Carson said that Alinsky had used the biblical story of Lucifer as a model, the fallen angel cast out of heaven, with ambitions to rule the world. “the original radical,” Carson said, citing Alinsky’s book, “Rules for Radicals.”
Carson seemed to conclude that Clinton had some sympathy for the devil.
“Somebody who acknowledges Lucifer,” he called Clinton. If the country followed her path, he said, “God will remove himself from us. We will not be blessed, and our nation will go down the tubes.”
Sharon Day, co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, accused former president Bill Clinton – husband of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – as a sexual abuser.
“As first lady you viciously attacked the character of women who were victims of sexual abuse . . . at the hands of your husband,” Day said, addressing Clinton.
Later, Day said: “I want to see a woman become president one day and i want my granddaughters to see a woman president . . . but not that woman . . . Hillary Clinton . . . not now…not EVER.”
The theme of the night was supposed to be “Make America Work Again,” and many of the speakers did intermix that economic message, but they also repeatedly took turns at bashing Clinton.
Michael Mukasey – the former attorney general during the George W. Bush Administration – condemned Clinton for her use of a private email server to conduct government business. Clinton’s use of that email led to an FBI inquiry, which ended with FBI Director James Comey declaring her behavior “extremely careless,” because it might have endangered classified material.
“Hillary Clinton is asking the people of this country . . . to make her the first president in history to take the constitutional oath of office, after already having violated it,” Mukasey said, meaning that Clinton had failed to uphold the law as secretary of state. “The message from this convention – to everyone watching this convention . . . No way, Hillary. No way on Earth.”
Earlier in the night, during the formal roll call of state delegates, Trump’s clinching votes were cast by his own son, Donald Trump Jr., who spoke for the New York delegation.
“It is my honor to be able to throw Donald Trump over the top in the delegate count tonight,” he said. “Congratulations, Dad, we love you!”
Later in the night, he took to the stage and again spoke lovingly of his father, serving as his best advocate of the convention so far, casting him as a straight-talking man who didn’t need to focus-group his opinions. He seemed to choke up slightly when he called his father “my best friend.”
But he also used much of that time onstage to criticize Clinton, casting her as irresponsible and too risky for the Oval Office.
“Let me tell you something about risk: If Hillary Clinton were elected, shed be the first president who couldn’t pass a basic background check. It’s incredible. Hillary Clinton is a risk Americans can’t afford to take,” he said. Later, he added a dig about Clinton’s email troubles: “We can’t simply delete our problems. We have to tackle them head on.”
Also speaking Tuesday night was Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter with his second wife, Marla Maples. She spoke of her father as a warm figure, who wrote encouraging notes on her school report cards.
Earlier in the night, Trump himself appeared on the jumbotron in the Quicken Loans Arena, on a remote feed from Trump Tower in New York. Of receiving the nomination, he said: “I’ll never forget it. It’s something I will never, ever forget.”
“This stage of the presidential process has come to a close. Together we’ve achieved historic results,” Trump said. “This is a movement. But we have to go all the way.”
Trump will formally accept the nomination on Thursday night.
After Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) appeared onstage – one of the Republicans with the most power in Washington now, and someone who pioneered the hard-line approach to battling President Obama that opened the door for Trump.
McConnell was booed, by delegates who believe he is not hard-line enough. That, just as much as the mogul on the big screen, symbolized how much McConnell’s party has shifted underneath him.
The crowd did cheer when McConnell said Trump would sign bills that the Senate’s Republicans approved of, and appoint a conservative Supreme Court justice, to replace the late Antonin Scalia. “Obama will not fill this seat. That honor will go to Donald Trump next year,” said McConnell, whose GOP is blocking Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland.
Earlier, McConnell presided over the formal nomination of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee.
The former congressman, who was elected governor in 2012, was chosen “acclamation” – that is, by a voice vote. “I’m proud to announce that Michael R. Pence has the overwhelming support of this convention,” McConnell said, after a chorus of aye’s for Pence, and no audible “no’s.”
Anti-Trump delegates had said they planned to try to hold up Trump’s nomination by walking out, and trying to deny Trump a sufficient number of votes. But that effort – like the “Never Trump” movement’s other last-ditch efforts this week – failed.
While there was no walk-out, not all of the delegates were satisfied with the results.
About 7:50 p.m. Eastern time, a delegate from Alaska forced a delay by requesting an official recount of its delegate votes, seeking to have fewer votes given to Trump. After 15 minutes of dead air and easy-listening music, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus came out and offered an arcane explanation of why the Alaska count wasn’t wrong. Trump got all the delegates, and a few boos.
At about 8:10 p.m., after Alaska’s votes had been sorted out, Ryan, who is the convention chairman, announced the official results. Trump, he said, “has been selected as the Republican Party nominee for president of the United States.”
Otherwise, the political drama had long ago drained out of this day, after Trump’s primary victories had erased the prospect of a contested convention – and after Trump’s allies had squelched “Never Trump” delegates’ efforts to disrupt the convention itself. But it was still a remarkable moment. A little more than a year before, Trump had seemed like an afterthought: a reality-TV star with no political experience, facing a deep field that included more than 10 current and former Republican officeholders.
But Trump had a message that defied GOP tradition on trade, and defied the party’s own advice to make inroads with Hispanics: He called for ripping up U.S. trade deals, building a wall on the border with Mexico, and deporting undocumented immigrants en masse. There was only one Trump in the race.
And now, there is only Trump.