CLEVELAND — Donald Trump was formally nominated for the presidency by Republican delegates 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 largely avoided the policy proposals that brought Trump so much success: building a wall on the southern border, barring foreign-born Muslims from entering the U.S., tearing up trade deals and deporting undocumented immigrants en masse.
They also often avoided mentions of Trump himself. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin 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 crowd. He did it by talking not about Trump, but about his 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.
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!”
The convention then broke into applause, as a band played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” with the Jumbotron in the Quicken Loans Arena displaying the words “Over the Top.”
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.
Anti-Trump delegates have said they plan 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.
Trump’s name was formally entered into nomination by an early backer, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. His nomination was then seconded by two of the elected officials who were first to endorse the mogul’s unlikely candidacy.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, the first House member to endorse Trump, called him “not merely a candidate. Donald Trump is a movement.”
Then South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMasters gave a speech that veered from unbridled happiness about Trump to deep pessimism about the state of the country Trump wants to lead.
“Weakness, decline, and ultimately, chaos and oblivion. We feel an eerie unease,” McMaster said, describing the state of the nation under President Obama. “But, ladies and gentlemen, that is about to change.”
Maine Republican Party Chairman Richard Bennett cast his delegation’s vote at the convention Tuesday evening:
“Mr. Chairman, the great state of Maine, home of rugged coastlines, beautiful forests, pristine lakes, home of Republican Governor Paul LePage, Senator Susan Collins and Congressman Bruce Poliquin; a state that has only one remaining Democrat federal elected official; the state that began the Republican revival in America’s Northeast, and is leading the way to Make New England Great Again; a state that’s led with welfare reform, spending and tax cuts, strong Second Amendment rights, and has made Maine work again with GOP leadership, casts 12 votes for Senator Ted Cruz, nine votes for Mr. Donald J. Trump and 2 votes for Governor John Kasich.”
Later in the evening, delegates nominated Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate.
Tuesday’s speakers aimed to reset and refocus the GOP convention after a lackluster first night Monday. On that night, Trump counterprogrammed his own convention, by calling in to Fox News and pre-empting an emotional speech by a woman whose son was killed in the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. A speech by rising GOP star Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa was pushed too late for prime-time TV, and given to a largely empty arena.
And a speech by Trump’s wife, Melania, turned out to contain passages very similar to passages in the 2008 convention speech by Michelle Obama.
Charges that Melania Trump had plagiarized cast a shadow over Trump and his campaign on the second day of the convention here in Cleveland, where Republicans are making the case to a skeptical country that the celebrity billionaire — the most unconventional and impulsive major-party standard-bearer in modern history — could be a credible and steadfast leader at a time of terrorist threats abroad and senseless tragedies at home.
Trump’s campaign and allies rushed to defend Melania Trump on Tuesday morning, even as other Republicans worried that the fresh controversy would eclipse Tuesday’s emphasis at the convention on Trump’s economic message.
Melania Trump had previously indicated that she wrote the speech herself.
On Tuesday morning, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort denied that there had been any plagiarism, despite clear similarities between the two speeches. Some parts of the speeches appeared to be the same, word for word. He made the rounds of an empty arena Tuesday morning, going between television sets on the convention floor as he made his case, looking tired and insisting that the plagiarism was being overstated and overplayed.
“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values that she cares about, her family, things like that,” Manafort said on CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday morning. “She was speaking in front of 35 million people last night, she knew that, to think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”
He added that he does not believe “Trump feels that there’s anything to fire someone about” during an interview on CBS.
Elsewhere within the Republican establishment, however, reaction was starkly different.
“Talking to operatives here, the mood is something between grim resignation and the Donner Party,” said veteran GOP consultant Mike Murphy on Tuesday morning.
Roger Stone, a Trump friend, called the speech very “effective” and “good.” He said he didn’t know who wrote the speech or was responsible for what he called the “alleged plagiarism.”
Stone said he had not spoken to Trump or Manafort yet Tuesday, but intended to speak with the latter sometime later in the day.
Asked whether someone should be fired or reprimanded for the speech, Stone said, “Not for me to say other than this is really bad staff work.”
Stone added that the campaign is still going through growing pains, an indirect jab at former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
“Sadly, the campaign lost several months under the wrong leadership, and they are still in the recruitment phase,” said Stone. “They’re not even at full strength and they need to be.”
Still other were optimistic that the controversy would blow over soon.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour called the controversy a “nothingburger” during an interview with The Washington Post. The former Republican National Committee chairman defended Melania Trump and said that the speech appeared heartfelt. “If I took the 10 most significant things that happened last night, I would not include this in the list,” he said.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said during a brief interview in Cleveland that he believes the controversy is being overblown and will soon pass.
“I think that in a 24/7 news cycle, you all have to have something to talk about,” Perry said when asked about the controversy. “My bet is … this will be gone probably by midafternoon. There will be something said on the stage that is probably more interesting for you.”