CLEVELAND – Donald Trump crossed the threshold of history the way he ran the Republican race: soaked in drama, surrounded by back-stabbing, jeered by well-heeled critics as a no-hope amateur, cheered by a die-hard base, and embraced at the finish line by his family.
The billionaire businessman was officially nominated as the Republican party’s candidate for president Tuesday in a surreal day befitting one of the most surreal campaigns in modern political history.
It started with intrigue over how the party of Honest Abe managed to allow the nominee’s wife to deliver a speech sprinkled with paragraphs of pilfered oratory. Hours later, it ended with his children hugging on the convention floor as he officially reached the number of necessary delegates.
MORE: Follow our coverage of the Republican national convention
Pixels of digital fireworks erupted on the overhead scoreboard. A muzak-style rendition of, “New York, New York,” blared on the speakers. And on the floor, the nominee’s namesake officially put him over the top in the roll call from his home state.
“Congratulations, Dad. We love you,” Donald Trump Jr. shouted above the rumble of a loud-but-not-unanimous crowd, which chanted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
“It’s not a campaign anymore. It’s a movement. It’s my honour to be able to throw Donald Trump over the top in the delegate count tonight.”
There were only faint remnants of the once-bitter opposition to him within the party. The vote from New York was followed by Puerto Rico, which announced its delegates belonged to Sen. Marco Rubio. The crowd also booed as the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, awarded Trump zero delegates.
But Trump won handily.
His moment of triumph came in yet another day that presidential-election historians will note for its novelty. Melania Trump had recited near-verbatim snippets of an old speech from incumbent first lady Michelle Obama, causing a bout of fingerpointing at the Republican convention.
There were calls for heads to roll — again.
The party chair suggested someone should be fired. Donald Trump’s campaign manager, who was just fired, suggested someone should be fired. And one of Trump’s closest, longtime political advisers who, according to the campaign, was fired — but who insisted he quit — also said someone should be fired.
Roger Stone said there should be consequences for what happened: about seven per cent of the spouse’s speech appeared to be borrowed from Michelle Obama.
“Sloppy staff work, at a minimum,” Stone told a breakfast panel organized at the convention by the website Politico.
“It’s sloppy staff work and somebody should go.”
MORE: The Melania Trump controversy? It’s straight from Trump’s playbook.
Stone was a former Nixon White House staffer and New York confidant of Trump’s who acted as his political aide in his previous flirtations with presidential runs. He parted ways with the campaign last year, but still speaks with Trump and remains a staunch supporter.
He downplayed the notion that the snafu might have any effect on voters. The public won’t care about the lifted lines, he said, and most will probably remember the image, presence and presentation of the candidate’s wife.
Stone compared Melania Trump to Jacqueline Kennedy — as refined women speaking different languages, comfortable in front of the camera, great political assets to their husbands, but uncomfortable speaking publicly.
Trump’s senior staff attempted to close ranks, blaming Hillary Clinton and the media for making a big deal of a string of coincidental words. However, the rival Democrats had nothing to do with viral videos that spread across social media after an out-of-work journalist tweeted comparisons with a speech from 2008.
The theme of that apparently plagiarized passage? Honesty and hard work.
“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect,” Melania Trump said, largely lifting from Obama’s remarks.
Trump had told an interviewer before delivering it that she’d written it herself, with minimal help. The campaign later issued a confusing statement that said she had indeed received help, without assigning any blame.
When Republican party chair Reince Priebus was asked at an event Tuesday whether he’d fire a speechwriter who committed plagiarism, he replied: “Probably … The distraction gets you off message a little.”
Fired Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, now an analyst at CNN, also urged the dismissal of whoever oversaw the Melania Trump speech. His rivalry with Trump’s current campaign manager led to frequent media leaks this spring between the warring camps.
The leaks resumed Tuesday. NBC reported that some staff were suggesting the spouse herself had meddled with the speech. Another report said campaign manager Paul Manafort was in charge of the project.
Some critics cast the gaffe as a sign Trump’s campaign is a high-stakes amateur hour in which he’s getting out-fundraised, out-organized at the ground level and outsmarted on digital platforms like social media.
Yet, Stone said, Trump’s still competitive.
While the vast majority of polls show Trump losing the popular vote nationally, he’s been neck-and-neck with Clinton in key states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
“This is a jump-ball,” said Stone. “This is a 50-50 race.”
Trump delivers his acceptance speech Thursday.