Donald Trump made a brief appearance at the Republican National Convention late Monday to introduce his wife, Melania, a bright moment in an opening day that was nearly derailed by a raucous attempt to expose the lingering divisions in the party.
Even as the convention got underway with talk of unity, Trump’s critics continued to try to block the New York businessman’s nomination and the fray threatened to spread to the rest of the convention week. The first sign of chaos broke out Monday when Trump’s allies blocked a group of states who wanted to force a roll call vote on the convention’s rules that could allow a challenge to his nomination.
Hours later, during the prime-time portion of the convention’s first night devoted to keeping America safe, speakers ranged from television actors to survivors of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi to former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani. Trump did make a brief appearance on stage, emerging as a fog-shrouded silhouette to take the stage.
“Thank you everybody, we love you,” Trump said. “Thank you so much. Oh, we’re going to win, we’re going to win so big.”
He and his wife shared a kiss and Trump departed. Melania Trump, a native of Slovenia in Central Europe, praised her husband, his family and her adopted country in a speech that charmed the convention.
“I was very proud to become citizen of the United States, the great privilege on planet Earth,” she said. “I will not take the freedoms this country offers for granted.”
If a message of unity needed to be made, Donald Trump picked a good messenger.
“Let’s all come together in a national campaign like no other,” Melania Trump said. “The race will be hard fought all the way to November. It will not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama. But throughout it all my husband will remain focused on only one thing, this beautiful country he loves so much.”
The night’s speeches capped a tumultuous opening day that began with thousands of protesters outside the Quicken Loans Arena and with Trump’s campaign manager attacking Ohio Gov. John Kasich for refusing to endorse the presumptive nominee. The feud with Kasich and the floor fight over the convention rules signaled that Melania Trump’s call for unity will be more difficult to achieve.
Trump himself pre-empted a prime-time speech from Pat Smith, whose son died in Benghazi, to conduct a phone interview on Fox News, during which he bashed Kasich for refusing to attend this week’s convention.
“Look, I beat him very badly,” Trump said. “I beat him very soundly. This was a contentious, some say the most contentious primary they’ve ever seen in either party. (But) from a standpoint of honor I think he should show up.”
At meetings of the Georgia delegation, U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue exhorted skeptical delegates to abandon their concerns and support Trump.
Perdue’s message to critics still smarting over a bruising primary campaign: “Get over it.”
“I know what you’re thinking — he wasn’t my first choice, he wasn’t my second choice,” Perdue said. “But let me remind you: This is not a candidate to be embarrassed about. And let me tell you why: We have an outsider. This isn’t something from the Washington establishment.”
Trump, who has promised to bring a showman’s sizzle to the convention, sent a jolt through the crowd when he sent word early in the day that he would make an appearance. The buzz continued as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gaveled the convention open as the Turtles 1967 hit “Happy Together” played in the background.
But that was before the attempted insurrection on the convention floor. Up to nine states demanded a state-by-state roll call vote on the proposed rules for the convention — more than enough to secure a potentially embarrassing vote for Trump’s campaign.
Instead, the convention chairman, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, called for a voice vote and shut off debate despite an ear-splitting chorus of “no” votes. The convention hall quickly descended into chaos. RNC officials said later that three states withdrew their support for the vote, nullifying the move, but the damage had been done.
Soon, there were dueling chants of “Roll call vote! Roll call vote!” and “We want Trump!” as members of the Colorado delegation, who were outspoken Trump critics, stormed off the floor.
Though the drama was telling, it was futile. Even if a roll call vote had been approved, the anti-Trump delegates couldn’t have mustered enough support to block his nomination. Instead, the RNC swapped one potentially embarrassing moment for another, leaving the party with nationally televised evidence that many delegates remain opposed to Trump.
There were signs Monday that there could be more efforts to disrupt the carefully scripted convention plan that Trump and RNC leaders created. Already there was talk of a move to force a vote on a second vice presidential candidate, in addition to Trump’s pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
As delegates poured out of the convention floor, the hallways echoed with their frustrations. Avery Anderson, a Georgia alternate and Trump supporter, vented about the outcry.
“Why don’t these people just stay home?” he said. “It makes no sense to come here and stir up trouble. It’s already a lost cause. It’s almost infuriating to know that people are here just to cause trouble.”
The overwhelming majority of Georgia’s delegation has united behind Trump — only one delegate has publicly said he would not support Trump — but the businessman’s supporters are worried others could flip. Trump’s state director, Brandon Phillips, warned those who don’t “behave” could be ousted, and about six delegates refused to sign a document vowing they would back Trump.
Still, some delegates were insistent the drama was behind them. Greg Williams, an Atlanta radio host, called Monday’s brouhaha “the last gasp of the Never Trump movement.”
“We certainly started the convention off with some controversy,” Williams added.
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Greg Bluestein reported from Cleveland. Aaron Gould Sheinin reported from Atlanta.Staff writers Jim Galloway and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.Staff writers Jim Galloway and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.