CLEVELAND — Donald Trump claimed the mantle Tuesday as the Republican presidential nominee, capping a stunning rise to power for his insurgent campaign as a boisterous showing by his family and friends revived his convention after a rocky start.
Chris Christie, shaking off the disappointment of being passed over as Trump’s running mate, performed a show trial of Hillary Clinton, whipping the crowd into frenzied chants of “Lock her Up! Lock her up!”
Donald Trump‘s son, Donald Jr., marked himself as a rising political star, sketching a portrait of his father as a champion of the working man who could unleash America’s potential. His half-sister Tiffany offered a more tender view of her father.
The coordinated attacks against Clinton and glimpses of the New York real estate magnate’s family life delighted a raucous crowd after a plagiarism controversy over a speech from Trump’s wife, Melania, sidetracked the convention’s opening night Monday.
In the highlight of the night, Christie turned Quicken Loans Arena into a courtroom as he branded Hillary Clinton a liar who coddled tyrants, terrorists and American enemies.
Christie, one of Trump’s closest allies and a former federal prosecutor, said that Clinton’s policies while secretary of state had helped an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group abduct 300 young schoolgirls in Nigeria and accused her of abetting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, enabling Iran and Cuba’s Castro brothers along with lying to Americans about her private email server.
“Is she guilty or not guilty?” Christie asked after every charge he laid before the crowd.
The delegates responded with a resounding: “Guilty!”
“We don’t disqualify Hillary Clinton to be the president of the United States,” Christie said. “The facts of her life and career disqualify her.”
Clinton’s campaign quickly responded to Christie’s speech.
“If you think Chris Christie can lecture anyone on ethics, we have a bridge to sell you,” the campaign said on her Twitter account, a reference to the 2013 George Washington Bridge line closure scandal that badly damaged Christie’s own political brand.
In another powerful moment, Trump’s son Donald Jr., who earlier choked up after casting New York’s nominating votes that put his father over the top in the delegate count, vowed that his father would restore American potential.
Trump Jr. said that his father ensured that his children learned from blue collar workers “with a doctorate in common sense.”
In a speech in which he showed himself to be sometimes more fluent in the language of conservatism than his father, he vowed that Trump would unleash the “greatness” of hardworking American people and wouldn’t use “the highest office in the land as a path to personal enrichment.”
“That President can only be my mentor, my best friend, my father, Donald Trump,” his son said.
Donald Jr.’s half sister Tiffany, 22, who has just graduated college and rarely appears on the campaign trail lifted the lid on her father’s personable side, calling him friendly, considerate, funny and real.
“My Dad is a natural born encourager, the last person ever to tell you to lower your sights,” Tiffany Trump said.
The focus of the night was supposed to be on the economy, but it was Clinton who was in the spotlight.
Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general under George W. Bush, said Clinton lied about her motivations in setting up a private email server while secretary of state and said that disqualified her from being President.
“Hillary Clinton is asking the people of this country and the people of the United States to make her the first President in history to take the oath of office after already having violated it,” he said.
The message, Mukasey said, the convention should send to her should be “loud, clear and short: No way, Hillary. No way on earth.”
‘Third Obama term’
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had previously offered a lukewarm endorsement of Trump, said he looked forward to sitting behind him in the House chamber when the GOP nominee delivers the State of the Union address. He said, unlike the GOP, Democrats have settled on a tired nominee for 2016.
“They are offering you a third Obama term, brought to you by another Clinton,” Ryan said.
Chris Cox, a National Rifle Association lobbyist, said that Clinton would stack the Supreme Court with justices who opposed the Second Amendment. “A Hillary Clinton Supreme Court means your right to own a firearm is gone,” Cox told delegates.
The Clinton campaign says the former secretary of state has no plans to abolish the right to own a gun, but has called for universal background checks and stricter control of firearms.
For his part, Trump basked in the success of officially becoming the Republican Party’s nominee after the roll call vote of state delegates Tuesday and said he is proud to be the party’s choice to battle Clinton in November.
“Together, we have achieved historic results, with the largest vote total in the history of the Republican Party,” he told delegates at the Republican National Convention in a live video from Trump Tower. “This is a movement, but we have to go all the way.”
Fallout from Melania Trump speech
Trump’s appearance came as his campaign sought to turn around a rocky start to the convention, following a scandal that erupted around his wife Melania’s convention address on Monday night. He did not mention the controversy over passages lifted from First Lady Michelle Obama’s convention speech in 2008, simply saying he and his wife had a great time Monday in Cleveland.
The theme of Tuesday evening was “Make America Work Again,” but was dominated by the attacks on Clinton’s credibility. Two of Trump’s children, Tiffany and Donald Jr., also sought to put a more human face on their father as he tries to broaden his appeal.
But the fallout over Melania Trump’s address, which featured unattributed excepts from a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama, mounted on Tuesday as critics used it to question the campaign’s competence and readiness for power and the campaign swatted away the controversy as “absurd.”
Donald Trump, who briefly introduced Melania on Monday after emerging onto the stage through a cloud of smoke and blue light, was furious about the embarrassment, two sources told CNN. The campaign, however, signaled that no one would be fired or disciplined over the episode.
Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort accused the Clinton campaign of jumping on the controversy to attack Melania Trump because she was a threat to the former secretary of state’s presidential candidacy.
But senior Clinton campaign communications advisor Karen Finney hit back, saying : “You can’t blame everything on us. Some of the mistakes that are made are made by the Trump campaign.”
Clinton did not weigh into the controversy but did slam the first night of the Republican convention as similar to the “Wizard of Oz.”
“Lots of sound and fury, even a fog machine, but when you pulled back the curtain, it was just Donald Trump with nothing to offer the American people,” Clinton said in Las Vegas.
It remained unclear, however, whether the firestorm over the Melania Trump speech will have a lasting impact on voters, especially since her speech was an often touching tribute to her husband and her adoptive United States.
The Trump campaign has been the most unconventional political operation in many decades, and political reversals that would have hobbled any other candidacy have repeatedly blown over with little apparent affect.
Top Republicans sought to put the controversy to rest.
“Whatever happened with the writing was unfortunate,” Republican Sen. John Barrasso told CNN’s Carol Costello on Tuesday. “I don’t want all the unity of this convention to be overshadowed by that.”
Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN’s Jake Tapper he understood “why it’s a big deal in terms of the internal, inside baseball of political coverage.”
“But I think for the vast majority of Americans, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other,” Rubio said.