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July 18, 2019

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Republican National Convention:

Wounds from a bruising primary election are slow to heal as GOP seeks unity

Republican National Convention 2016

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, puts bunny ears behind the heads of participants in a group photo before the start of the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016.

CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention was billed as a time for the party to mend its wounds.

Republicans of many stripes cheered on Tuesday as Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Donald Trump had officially secured the party’s nomination for president. In the Nevada delegation alone, Republicans who formerly backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich — along with those who’ve backed Trump all the way — stood together waving signs, swaying to the music, and otherwise cheering on their newly named nominee.

Some of them are socially conservative. Some are fiscally conservative. Some consider themselves libertarians.

In interviews with a dozen Nevada delegates and alternates, many brought up the idea of a “big tent” Republican Party, how Trump had contributed to it — or whether it was important to have that kind of a party at all.

“You go back to that cliche of a 'big tent,'” said delegate Maureen Karas of Las Vegas. “Our party is a continuum.”

How much of a role social issues should factor into the party’s platform moving forward, for instance, has been a point of contention among Republicans. Some, like Karas, emphasize issues like immigration and the economy and place less emphasis on socially conservative issues.

“When I talk to young people, they don’t care” about same-sex marriage, Karas said. “But we still have to be respectful. It’s not one of my issues, I guess.”

Nevada delegate Juanita Cox said that the Republican Party has been relatively closed off to some groups, like the LGBT community, and should do more to open itself up.

But for others, like alternate Karen England of Reno, it’s a key issue. Individually, she praised the platform passed by the convention body on Monday, which has been called by many the most conservative in the party’s history.

“As a conservative, I’m really happy,” England said.

In contrast with other Republican candidates in recent years, Trump hasn’t made social issues a focal point of his campaign. He has said he’s pro-life — though he used to be pro-choice — and that he believes that marriage is between one man and one woman — though he’s also considered the most LGBT-friendly Republican presidential candidate ever.

The party platform showed that, separate from their support for Trump, socially conservative issues continue to be a significant priority for Republicans. The party platform passed on Monday either moved or stayed to the right on socially conservative issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion to teaching the Bible in public schools.

But other elements of the platform were directly shaped by Trump and his campaign promises, such as advocating that a wall be built along the entire U.S.-Mexico border and taking an “America first” position on trade.

Then there’s the broader question of what kind of conservative Trump is and how that could shape the Republican Party. Many elected Republican politicians were slow to warm to Trump or have still only given him a lukewarm embrace.

Trump was, to many, a polarizing figure on the campaign trail, so the convention was supposed to clarify his role as a leader in the Republican Party among its other leaders.

To that end, Tuesday evening’s program also showed a party beginning to mend its wounds: Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy all spoke before the convention body and talked about the good that could be done under a Trump presidency.

Ryan, in his speech, appeared to embrace the divisions the party had suffered as indicative of a passionate, caring party.

“Have we had our arguments this year? Sure we have — and you know what I call those? Signs of life,” Ryan said. “Signs of a party that's not just going through the motions. Not just mouthing new words for the same old stuff.”

Ryan promised that next time he’s at the State of the Union address he’ll be up there with Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence.

Similarly, McConnell talked about how Trump would be good for a Republican-controlled Senate.

"With Donald Trump in the White House, Senate Republicans will build on the work we've done and pass more bills into law than any Senate in years,” McConnell said.

But the wounds haven’t healed yet. When McConnell took the stage for the vice presidential nominating proceedings Tuesday, it was to the boos of some in the audience. During the roll call, some delegates booed when a state announced that a majority of its delegates were allocated to a candidate other than Trump.

“You don’t invite a guest into your home and boo him,” England said. “It was classless — not the way to party unity."

Carol Del Carlo, an alternate delegate from Incline Village, said the same thing about the other side. She said she was “disappointed” in the politicians who’ve been slow to warm to Trump. She stressed the need for the party to come together either to vote for Trump or vote against Hillary.

“Honestly, Trump was not my first or second choice,” Del Carlo said. "But I respect the will of the people and he’s now my choice.”

Indeed, one of the more intense moments of unity during the convention was the rousing speech by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who essentially put on a mock trial of Clinton. He presented evidence against Clinton and asked the crowd to judge her “guilty or not guilty.”

“Guilty,” they shouted, at every break in his speech, with some starting their own rounds of “lock her up.”

“If you’re not for Trump, vote against Hillary,” Del Carlo said. “You have to vote."

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