With a mix of putdowns and a floor fight, Republicans open raucous national convention
CLEVELAND -- Republicans opened their national convention Monday on a less-than-harmonious note, as the head of Donald Trump's campaign disparaged the host governor and Bush family dynasty while dissenters waged a brief floor fight opposing the M...
CLEVELAND - Republicans opened their national convention Monday on a less-than-harmonious note, as the head of Donald Trump’s campaign disparaged the host governor and Bush family dynasty while dissenters waged a brief floor fight opposing the Manhattan business tycoon.
The sun had barely cleared the high-rises overlooking Lake Erie when top Trump aide Paul Manafort took his shot at John Kasich, Ohio’s governor and an erstwhile Trump rival for the Republican nomination. Kasich has refused to endorse Trump and said he will steer clear of the convention stage while keeping up an active schedule of appearances in and around Cleveland this week.
“He’s making a big mistake,” Manafort said in a morning interview on MSNBC, drawing audible groans from an audience sitting in. “He’s hurting his state and embarrassing his state, frankly.”
The chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, Matt Borges, immediately fired back on Twitter, noting Kasich’s approval in surveys of Ohio voters and suggesting Manafort “still has a lot to learn about Ohio politics.”
Manafort, however, showed no signs of contrition.
Later, at a morning briefing with reporters, he reiterated his criticism of Kasich, then turned his sights on the Bush family. In a break with custom, former President George H.W. Bush and his son, former President George W. Bush, are boycotting the convention along with others in their extended political clan.
“Certainly the Bush family, while we would have liked to have had them, they’re part of the past,” Manafort said. “We’re dealing with the future.”
Detailing the week’s intended themes - getting voters to look anew at Trump, litigating the “failures of the Obama administration,” attacking Democrat Hillary Clinton - he said “the fourth and final piece of the strategy is to unify the party.”
“We think that the unification is happening,” Manafort said, despite contrary evidence. “We hope that when the Bush family decides to participate again in the political process, they will join us. But healing takes time, and we understand that.”
It was clear that many in the party were still coming around to accepting Trump, an outsider who defeated a number of long-serving stalwarts, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to seize the GOP nomination.
Three hours after the convention was gaveled open, chaos briefly descended on the floor of the downtown sports arena when anti-Trump activists sought to force a vote on a rule that would have allowed delegates to vote as they wished rather than being bound to the presumptive nominee.
It was perhaps the last gasp of a movement that tried and repeatedly failed to stymie Trump during the primary season.
The presiding chairman briefly fled the stage rather than allow a potentially embarrassing roll call vote on the measure, prompting a roaring wave of boos and shouts, which Trump backers sought to drown out with chants of “USA, USA!”
After several minutes of upheaval and uncertainty, Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas took the stage wielding the gavel and called for a voice vote instead of polling delegates. With that, a majority shouted its affirmation and turned back the anti-Trump forces.
Other signs of the party’s divide were more subtle.
Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a potential 2020 presidential aspirant, never mentioned Trump by name as he addressed delegates from South Carolina, which enjoys a privileged early spot on the nominating calendar.
“When you think about the accomplishments we’ve made and you hear what some Republicans still say today, that we need to show we can govern, that we should not be scary, that we have to show that we’re a grown-up party, I just fundamentally disagree with that viewpoint,” he told delegates. “We have proven that we are America’s governing party.”
Cotton declined to take questions from reporters after his 15 minutes of Trump-free remarks, saying “gotta go” as he rushed down an escalator.
Elsewhere, at a gathering of Iowa’s delegation, the state’s veteran U.S. senator, Charles E. Grassley, addressed those in the party who, he said, “have doubts” about Donald Trump.
Tell them “two words,” Grassley said: “Supreme Court.” He went on to warn about the risk that Clinton, if elected, could appoint several new justices.
Earlier, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hit the same note, telling the delegates that “whether Donald Trump was your first choice, your second choice or your 17th choice,” he is “better than Hillary Clinton.”
The day’s official convention program reflected the Trumpian takeover of the party.
Although the theme was security at home and abroad, and the lineup of speakers included a number with military and other backgrounds to inform their views, the schedule also included several reality-TV personalities and others with no obviously relevant credentials.
The final speaker scheduled for prime time, Trump’s wife, Melania, is a former fashion model with a degree in architecture and design; in another break with tradition, Trump planned to show up early at the convention to introduce her.
Even before he touched down in this bustling convention city, Trump continued to stir things.
Speaking Monday morning by telephone with Fox News, Trump raised questions about President Barack Obama’s loyalties when it comes to disputes between African-Americans and police - even as he agreed with Obama’s point that blacks are treated differently by police.
The president spoke to the nation Sunday, after the killings of three Baton Rouge, La., officers. “Nothing justifies violence against law enforcement. Attacks on police are an attack on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible,” Obama said. He also cautioned against “inflammatory rhetoric.”
Trump, in response, called Obama “a great divider.”
“I mean, you know, I watched the president and sometimes the words are OK but you just look at the body language, there’s something going on,” Trump said. “Look, there’s something going on and the words are not often OK, by the way.”
Seconds after slighting Obama, however, Trump agreed when host Brian Kilmeade reminded him of assertions by fellow Republicans that African-Americans often are treated more severely by law enforcement. Trump said that there was “definitely something going on there also.”
“And it has to do with training and it has to do with something,” he said. “But there is something going on that maybe, Brian, we can’t recognize it or we can’t see it unless you’re black, and it’s an experience.”
Outside the convention, dozens gathered to protest Trump, saying he has deepened racial divides in an already-fractured country.
“He is a candidate who will set us back decades,” said 19-year-old David Udall of Los Angeles as he held a large “Stop Trump” banner.
Many of the activists, some of whom took part in a thunderous but peaceful march against Trump and police brutality on Sunday afternoon, had traveled thousands of miles to oppose the GOP nominee.