CLEVELAND — Donald Trump officially became the Republican Party’s nominee for president here Tuesday night, a landmark moment in American political history that made complete the celebrity mogul’s unlikely conquest of the GOP.
But Republicans who gathered for their national convention celebrated Trump’s triumphant milestone not by promoting his personal virtues and policy ideas so much as by leading a three-hour prosecution of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
There were allegations that she had enabled sexual abuse at the hands of her husband. She was accused of having sympathy for Lucifer. There were so many references to her private email server and the 2012 Benghazi attacks that it was hard to keep count.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie led a call-and-response prosecution of her actions as secretary of state, turning the audience into an ad hoc jury: “Guilty or not guilty?”
The crowd interrupted him four times: “Lock her up!” the delegates chanted. “Lock her up!”
The Republican National Convention’s first two nights have been striking for the unusual amount of time spent demonizing Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, as opposed to rounding out the image of the party’s polarizing standard-bearer.
Tuesday evening’s program was choreographed to promote party unity under the banner, “Make America Work Again,” but there were sparse references to economic policies or job growth.
Instead, convention viewers were served a buffet of scattered messages and discordant themes, underscoring the party’s divisions and discomfort with Trump. For instance, overhauling trade deals has been a cornerstone of Trump’s economic agenda, yet there was relatively little mention of his ideas about trade.
Nor were there many mentions of his other signature ideas: building a wall on the southern U.S. border, temporarily barring foreign-born Muslims from entering the country and deporting undocumented immigrants en masse.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) gave the most substantive and muscular speech about conservatism. But the man who four years ago got a rock-star reception at the GOP convention as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate was coolly received by Trump delegates in the convention hall.
Ryan, who has uneasily endorsed Trump, spoke mostly about his own agenda for House Republicans. Addressing the turmoil Trump has wrought on the party, Ryan said, “Democracy is a series of choices. We Republicans have made our choice.”
“Have we had our arguments this year?” he continued. “Sure we have. You know what I call those? Signs of life – signs of a party that’s not just going through the motions, not just mouthing new words for the same old stuff.”
The most effective character testimonials came from two members of the Trump family – Donald Jr. and Tiffany – who tried to convince people their father is more compassionate and trustworthy than the caricature of Trump.
“Donald Trump has never done anything halfway, least of all as a parent,” said Tiffany, 22, his daughter from his second marriage with Marla Maples, who was in attendance.
Tiffany added, “My dad is a natural-born encourager, the last person who will ever tell you to lower your sights.”
Donald Jr., 38, delivered a particularly forceful defense of his father and tried to explain his appeal to blue-collar America. He described how his father mentored him at construction job sites, and he condemned a system that benefits “our new aristocrats.”
“He didn’t hide out behind a desk in an executive suite. He spent his career with regular Americans. He hung out with the guys at construction sites . . . pouring concrete and hanging sheetrock.”
Other speakers sought to convince voters that Trump developed unrivaled business acumen, a strategic mind and drive during his decades as a real estate baron and promoter. His career – a quest for riches and fame that was marked also by successive bankruptcies and other failings – has been the subject of an assault from Clinton and her allies.
Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, recalled how Trump took his sport seriously at a time when many athletic commissions and arenas would not. He testified to Trump’s business instincts, work ethic and loyalty.
“I have been in the fight business my whole life,” he said. “I know fighters. Ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump is a fighter. And I know he will fight for this country.”
The speakers tried to refocus the convention after a problematic opening night punctuated by Melania Trump’s speech, which was well received but came under scrutiny because it contained passages nearly identical to portions of Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
There were curious choices made in Tuesday’s program as well. For example, Christie delivered the most electric speech of the night, but it was given before the network prime hour to make time for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and soap opera star-turned-avocado-farmer Kimberlin Brown.
As on opening night, there was plenty of bashing of Clinton. The governor and attorney general of Arkansas were especially aggressive in assailing Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, including over their years in Arkansas.
Sharon Day, co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, raised Bill Clinton’s personal scandals.
“As first lady, you viciously attacked the character of women who were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of your husband,” she 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 evening’s festivities began with the traditional state-by-state roll call, complete with ceremonial pomp and flourishes.
It lacked the drama and suspense that “Never Trump” Republicans had hoped for as the party’s controversial standard-bearer easily won a majority of convention delegates to formalize his nomination.
Still, Trump’s achievement on Tuesday was remarkable, if fully anticipated. A reality-television star and business mogul who entered a race against more than a dozen of the GOP’s brightest stars, Trump muscled each of them out of his way with his raw, populist appeals to people’s economic grievances and nationalistic impulses.
In the end, all the party had left was Trump. And on Tuesday night, it became his.
Trump beamed in live from Trump Tower in New York, telling delegates that this was an evening he will “never, ever forget.”
“Together we’ve achieved historic results with the largest vote total in the history of the Republican Party,” Trump said. “This is a movement, but we have to go all the way. . . . We’ll win the presidency and bring real change and leadership back to Washington.”
At 7:12 p.m., Trump’s oldest child, Donald Jr., stood on the convention floor – locking arms with siblings Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany – and ceremonially cast New York state’s 87 Trump delegates for his father, pushing him over the required 1,237-delegate threshold.
“It is my honor to be able to throw Donald Trump over the top in the delegate count tonight,” Donald Jr. said. “Congratulations, Dad, we love you!”
With chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” filling Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland and a band playing an instrumental version of “New York, New York,” the Trump children fought back tears, visibly moved by the emotion of the moment.
Later in the evening, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was formally nominated as the party’s vice-presidential candidate.
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 the efforts of some rebellious delegates to disrupt the convention itself.
There were spurts of dissent, some unspoken. For instance, when it came time for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) to announce her state’s support for Trump, she turned the microphone over to a fellow delegate to utter Trump’s name. Trump has publicly chastised Martinez for her refusal, so far at least, to endorse him.
But the final roll call was decisive: 1,725 delegates for Trump, followed by 475 for Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), 120 for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, 114 for Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida), seven for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, three for former Florida governor Jeb Bush and two for Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky).
Some of Trump’s most loyal backers briefly sang his praises during the roll-call proceedings. Sen. Jeff Sessions (Alabama) declared him “a warrior and a winner.” Rep. Chris Collins (New York) said he was “not merely a candidate. Donald Trump is a movement.” And South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster veered in his remarks from unbridled happiness about Trump to deep pessimism about the state of the country he 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 Barack Obama. “But, ladies and gentlemen, that is about to change.”
The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.