CLEVELAND – Republican attempts to slow Donald Trump’s march to the nomination failed on Monday afternoon - but not before chaos erupted on the Republican National Convention floor as a national audience watched.
A renegade group of delegates seeking to force a rules vote that would have embarrased Trump backers and top GOP officials on the first day of their national meeting were rebuffed in a voice vote, prompting an outcry and triggering a disorderly sequence of events on that was broadcast live on cable news networks.
The failure cleared the path for Trump to accept the GOP presidential nomination with no formal challenge. But it underscored the deep rifts that continue to plague the Republican Party during a week that was supposed to reflect unity.
On the sidelines of the event, those rifts were also on display as Trump’s top backers on aggressively disparaged leading Republicans who have declined to support the mogul for president.
Just after 4 p.m., the movement by anti-Trump forces to compel the convention to vote on a set of rules to formalize Trump’s nomination and begin laying out the guidelines for the 2020 elections was denied. While such a measure would have been unlikely to pass, it would have briefly emmpowered Trump’s foes and slowed the mogul.
“Roll call vote! Roll call vote!” angry delegates chanted, while Trump supporters sought to overpower them with chants of “Trump! Trump!” The Colorado delegation briefly walked off the floor.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah expressed befuddlement and indignation that no roll call vote was held and that the podium was abandoned briefly.
“There’s no precedent for this in parliamentary procedure,” Lee told reporters on the convention floor. “We are now in uncharted territory.” He called the outcome “surreal.”
Earlier in the day, New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey came to the convention floor claiming to be holding a packet of documents with the requisite number of signatures of delegates from 10 states - which would be enough to force a vote. Trailed by dozens of reporters, Humphrey delivered the signatures to a convention official, who was reviewing them.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said it was “unacceptable” for former candidates who pledged to support the eventual nominee to hold out now. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort targeted Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the Bush family, who are skipping the convention.
The broadsides from Trump allies, which drew some swift rebuttals, came on the sidelines of the convention, which officially gaveled in Monday afternoon. Trump is expected to be officially nominated for president at the quadrennial confab, which will feature four days of speeches, meetings and parties.
“Certainly the Bush family, we would have liked to have had them. They’re part of the past. We’re dealing with the future,” Manafort told reporters Monday morning, according to the Associated Press. Manafort said on MSNBC that Kasich was “embarrassing his state” by skipping the convention.
Christie reminded Michigan Republicans that as a candidate for president, he and other GOP candidates pledged to support the eventual nominee.
“It is unacceptable to me and it should be unacceptable to you that anyone who signed that pledge is not now adhering to that pledge and supporting our party’s nominee,” said Christie. The governor, who is now a staunch Trump supporter and surrogate, didn’t call anyone out by name.
As White House hopefuls, Kasich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush pledged loyalty to the eventual nominee before later backing away. So did Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas. Like Bush and Kasich, Cruz has not endorsed Trump. But Cruz is speaking at the convention.
Kasich’s allies defended the governor on social media. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges tweeted: “Manafort still has a lot to learn about Ohio politics. Doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Hope he can do better.”
“Impossible to know “strategy” behind this,” tweeted John Weaver, a top Kasich adviser in his presidential run.
Christie added: “Everyone has a right to their own conscience and their own beliefs. But the fact of the matter is, as I said before, if you’re a Republican and you have voted for Republican nominees for president and you’re not working for Donald Trump, you’re working for Hillary. And that’s the bottom line.”
If the anti-Trump delegates are successful in their push for a floor vote, it would force the convention to vote on a set of rules to formalize Trump’s nomination and begin laying out the rules for the 2020 elections. While such a vote would be unlikely to pass, it would nonetheless briefly elevate the anti-Trump protesters.
Former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey came to the convention floor claiming to be holding a packet of documents with the requisite number of signatures of delegates from 10 states - which would be enough to force a vote. Trailed by dozens of reporters, Humphrey delivered the signatures to a convention official, who was reviewing them.
For Trump, the convention comes at a crucial time. He is trying to put weeks of distracting feuds and staff turnover behind him and demonstrate to the country that he is the best-qualified candidate for the White House.
On Monday morning, he touted the facilities where the convention will be held - and said that he was planning to make an unscheduled appearance later in the day to see his wife speak.
“I’d love to be there when my wife speaks. So the answer is yes. I will be there,” Trump said on Fox News Channel.
Trump said organizers spent “so much time building the center and it got built properly. It’s beautiful. It’s really one of the most beautiful I’ve seen of its kind and we’re very proud of it.”
He also lobbed some political attacks at President Obama, accusing him of being a “great divider” and causing “tremendous divide in this country.”
For the city of Cleveland, the convention will be a test of its ability to maintain order and safety at a time when tension and deadly violence has erupted between police and African Americans across the country in recent weeks. Protesters have descended on the city to express stern disapproval of Trump and his policies.
By midday, hundreds of anti-Trump activists had flooded Cleveland’s Public Square with chants and banners condemning the presumptive nominee. Many had walked from Chicago, while others travelled from as far as Texas.
“This isn’t a rally of the biggest names in the world, but there are real activists here with real struggles,” Mick Kelly, a member of the Coalition to Stop Trump and March on the RNC, told groups supporting causes ranging from gay and lesbian or immigrant rights to anti-corporate lobbying.
Nearly 5,000 delegates and alternates are gathering in Cleveland, which hit by stormy weather Monday morning. The convention will also host about 15,000 credentialed media, organizers said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus launched the meetings shortly after 1 p.m. He warned delegates thinking of disrupting the convention to register displeasure with him or Trump that they must dot i’s and cross t’s if they try to use procedural moves to change the rules of the convention.
Each day of the convention will feature a unique theme. Monday’s theme is “Make America Safe Again,” a twist on Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” motto. The day’s speeches are expected to underscore national security, immigration and foreign policy themes.
Monday’s speakers are an eclectic mix of television stars, military veterans, members of Congress and Trump’s wife Melania. On Fox, Trump said his wife would talk about her immigrant experience and “love of country.”
Two of Monday’s speakers are U.S. senators and Iraq war veterans: Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who served in the top job in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, will also speak.
Soap opera actor Antonio Sabato Jr., actor Scott Baio and “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson are also scheduled to speak. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn ,who Trump considered to be his vice presidential running mate, will deliver an address as well.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a strident Trump critic as a candidate for president, is on the schedule of speakers. His fellow Texan and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul is also on the slate.
Meanwhile, some members of the Virginia delegation were planning on Monday to make trouble at the convention later in the day.
The delegation, gathered at the Airport Holiday Inn, 18 miles southwest of the Quicken Loans Arena, was chosen in the spring, when Ted Cruz supporters thought they might have a shot at installing the senator from Texas at a brokered convention.
Many of them said they were firmly behind Trump now. And even the most avid Cruz supporters, including former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, say they have given up any hopes of nominating anyone but Trump.
Even so, some were looking to make trouble for Trump in other ways. That includes pushing for a “minority report” on the floor related to rules changes that would favor a grass-roots candidate in 2020. There was even buzz that Virginia leaders of that effort would stage a walk-out in protest.
Delegates from about a dozen other states have been planning similar activities.
“My greatest hope for Donald Trump was he was going to be an anti-establishment candidate and that has already crashed on the rocks,” Cuccinelli told The Washington Post.
He added, with sarcasm: “Oh, well. Guess he’s not Hillary. That’ll have to do.”
Peter Holley, Jenna Johnson, Louisa Loveluck, Ed O’Keefe, Karen Tumulty and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.