CLEVELAND – Party division be damned. When the GOP 2016 convention delegates officially nominated Donald Trump as their candidate for president Tuesday, they were doing so as Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
While the party establishment grapples with a sloppily run convention and a nominee they’d long ago hoped would be defeated, many delegates in contrast–even those who months ago had seen the future of the GOP in Ted Cruz, John Kasich or Marco Rubio – were awed by what they see unfolding before them.
“I feel like I am living a dream,” Rick Metzgar, a member of Maryland’s state House of Delegates, told TPM in the concourse of the Quicken Loan Arena. “It’s going to be a tsunami.”
As headlines focused on Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, inside the “Q,” delegates were celebrating with the same peculiar and patriotic costuming they always have worn when ushering in a new nominee. Together on the floor, convention attendees swung back and forth to the sounds of “New York, New York” as it was announced Trump would officially be topping their presidential ticket.
Mary Susan Rehrer, a delegate from Minnesota, was standing in the hallway, outside of the convention floor posing for photographs in her red and blue light-up Trump cape that had been sewn for her by a “legal immigrant” (who, in the true entrepreneurial spirit of the GOP convention, has since made a business of making light-up capes.) She said she was floored so many in the media had walked away from Monday night’s convention with the similarities between Melania’s speech and Michelle Obama’s in 2008 as their headline.
“I’m in business, OK, and I speak for a living as one of the things that I do. All the best stuff is stolen and there is nothing original, so it’s all hocus pocus,” Rehrer said. “We’re supposed to share.”
For many delegates, Melania impressed.
“I sat on the floor and listened to her speech, when I got back to the motel, CSPAN was telling us how bad it was,” recounted Texas delegate David Foreman.
Robert Carter, who is a first-time attendee at the convention, said he was surprised by the coverage Trump’s first night had received.
“You know, because it doesn’t fit their idea of what a convention should be like. This is the problem that the people have with Donald Trump. He is not a conventional politician, he’s not going to run a conventional race,” Carter said.
Even narratives about frazzled unity and divisiveness were false, GOP convention-goers said.
“I would be one to know because I was a Cruz supporter, but as a Republican who is devoted to the progressiveness of our nation and moving past where we are now, all Republicans are going to come together and support the man who is going to lead us to a better, a safer, a more productive and a more honorable America and that is only Donald Trump,” said Texas delegate Cynthia Kline.
Over and over again, delegates recounted how the famous billionaire from New York – a man who had his own reality television show, a beauty pageant and a cache of flashy hotels – was one of them. He listened to them. He said what they wish they could say. When pushed, however, on how Trump had not raised money or hadn’t built out a traditional presidential campaign infrastructure, they pushed back.
“Why should he fundraise? He’s winning without fundraising now. He doesn’t owe anything to anybody,” said Montana delegate Ed Butcher, who wore a “Lifes a Bitch, Don’t Elect One” button.
Even where Trump’s promises have fallen short, even when some openly acknowledged his plan to build a border wall or deport millions may not quite be attainable, delegates on the convention floor still seemed to trust Trump more than other Republican politicians, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who was booed repeatedly on the floor Tuesday.
Bill Frazier, an 80-year-old Army veteran, took his hat off and recounted all the wars he’d served in the Army when confronted with a question about whether Trump really donated all the money he said he had to veterans.
“If Donald Trump does half of what he says he wants to accomplish, he’s gonna be the greatest president we’ve had since Abe Lincoln. This country is on the precipice of going under,” Frazier said.
Johnny Ray Salling, a state senator from Maryland quipped, “Is he the messiah? No. But he has the answers.”