Candidate Crashes First Night of Convention

Convention speakers push Trump foreign policy

Donald Trump
Donald Trump / AP
July 18, 2016

CLEVELAND, Ohio—Lawmakers, veterans, and his wife Melania cheered Donald Trump Monday night for his commitment to foreign policy and national security, despite the controversial positions Trump has taken on America’s commitments abroad.

Trump made a last-minute appearance during the evening’s lineup, emerging on stage to Queen’s "We Are the Champions" to introduce his wife Melania, a former model and one of the keynote speakers of the evening focused on issues of national security.

"We’re gonna win, we’re gonna win so big," Trump said in very brief remarks onstage.

Trump has drawn ire for describing NATO as obsolete, expressing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and suggesting nations such as South Korea should pay the United States to support them militarily.

Monday night’s guests at the Republican National Convention sold Trump’s foreign policy agenda as preferable to that of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state under Barack Obama and thus crafted much of the president’s global agenda during his first term.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, linked Clinton to President Obama’s policies on immigration and foreign policy and described America as "under siege." He accused Clinton of "paving the way" for ISIS by withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and faulted her for standing "on the sidelines while terror hotspots erupted across the globe."

"Our own city streets have become the battleground: Fort Hood, Boston, Chattanooga, San Bernardino, and Orlando," he said. McCaul expressed confidence that Trump would fight radical Islamic terrorism and "never allow terrorists to gain ground against America."

"I am proud to serve as a member of his national security team, and I can tell you this: Donald will never apologize for American greatness," McCaul stated. "He will promote it."

McCaul did not directly address the candidate’s specific proposals, such as his idea of temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country—a view that Trump has softened amid scrutiny. McCaul criticized that proposal during a rollout of the GOP foreign policy agenda last month.

"You can’t ban an entire race or a religion from coming into the country. What you need is a proper vetting system," McCaul said in June when pressed on Trump’s proposal. "There are ways to properly vet and protect threats from coming into the United States without just a swath of a ban against any race or religion."

"I’ve always said that we have to be careful in our rhetoric because that can inflame the Muslim community and it can, in fact, help their recruiting efforts in some respects," he later said.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former infantry officer in the U.S. Army, indicated in his own remarks Monday that Trump would take a harder line than Obama and Clinton on military operations abroad.

"Our warriors and their families don’t ask for much … but there are a few things we’d like. We’d like a commander-in-chief who speaks of winning wars and not ending wars. We’d like a commander-in-chief who calls the enemy by its name, a commander-in-chief who draws red lines cautiously but enforces them ruthlessly," Cotton said, his last point referring to Obama’s failure to enforce his promise of military action against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Trump said in May that he would have stayed out of the Syrian civil war and he has criticized American military interventions in both Iraq and Libya.

Monday’s night bore the theme "Make America Safe Again," with three hours of remarks devoted to the military, veterans, terrorism, and immigration. The opening night’s lineup of speakers included an array lawmakers and veterans, along with a few entertainment personalities with no expertise in national security or foreign policy.

The evening program followed a failed attempt by some Trump dissenters to force a vote on convention rules, which could have freed delegates to vote for an alternate nominee for president. The effort was squashed by pro-Trump Republicans, who applied intense pressure on delegates to withdraw their support for the effort.

The night also featured firsthand testimony from Marine Corps veterans Mark Geist and John Tiegen about their heroic efforts in the 2012 Benghazi attack and emotional words from Pat Smith, the mother of State Department official Sean Smith who was killed in Benghazi. Smith drew praise from the audience with her sharp criticism of Hillary Clinton, who she said she blames "personally" for the death of her son.

"Hillary for prison," she said. "She deserves to be in stripes."

Retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the author of Lone Survivor who earned the Navy Cross for his actions fighting the Taliban during Operation Red Wing in 2005, focused his remarks at the convention on the need to support America’s veterans and build an elite military to thwart threats to the nation and globe.

"I know he understands what it’s going to take to fix this," Luttrell said of Trump. "The only way we are going to keep America safe is to have an elite military."

Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), an Army veteran, focused on Clinton’s shortcomings, speaking about Trump briefly at the end of her speech.

"The question I hear time and again is ‘where is America’s leadership?’ There’s a void in the world: a deficit that cannot be filled by others. Our country and the world of which we are a part simply cannot afford four more years of this lack of leadership under Hillary Clinton," Ernst, who spoke last, said.

"Our allies see us shrinking from our place as a leader in the world as we have failed time and again to address threats. They are looking for American leaders who are willing to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’"

"Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted. Her judgment and character are not suited to be sitting in the most powerful office in the world," she said.