Politics

Reluctant Republicans Barely Mention the Nominee

GOP party leaders and lawmakers talk more about Clinton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his staff reacts to the booming noise made by the gavel as he tests out the podium on stage before the starts of Day Two of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The night belonged to Donald Trump who was named the Republican nominee Tuesday , so why weren't GOP party leaders and lawmakers mentioning his name? In fact, his likely Democratic opponent came up twice as often in speeches as he did.  

What was billed as a night to discuss how to improve the U.S. economy -- with the theme of “Make America Work Again” -- started strong with Sen. Jeff Sessions , R-Ala., delivering an effusive speech kicking off a state-by-state roll call vote that ended with the bombastic real estate mogul securing the GOP nomination.  

[ Special Coverage: 2016 Republican National Convention ]  

“Americans want help now. This election will make it happen,” said a beaming Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump. “That is why we need Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the leader that will bring change. He has the strength, courage, and will to get it done."  

A giant screen on the Quicken Loans Arena stage declared “Over The Top” when Trump’s home state of New York cast the vote that officially handed him the nomination.  

But the Trump praise quickly fizzled from there.  

   

Where Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena shook with applause Monday as lawmakers and former national security officials delivered a message of fear that is red meat to conservative delegates, it was filled with tepid applause at many times one night later.  

Where former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani , who rose to national prominence after 9/11, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn bounded onto the stage on the convention’s opening night, GOP lawmakers like Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky seemed resigned to their roles one night later -- but less than enthusiastic about Trump as the GOP standard bearer.  

GOP lawmakers and other figures largely focused on their own pet issues or legislative agenda or stopping presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton from becoming commander in chief.  

Some never mentioned Trump’s name. Others, like senior National Rifle Association executive Chris Cox , uttered the most infamous name in American politics -- Donald Trump -- very sparingly. In Cox’s case, those were the last words of his remarks.  

When Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and other freshmen Republican senators took the stage, he focused his comments not on Trump, but on keeping control of the Senate and “putting oil miners back to work.” Speaking for the group, he talked of preventing a Clinton presidency and reviving the American dream. He did talk of the need to win back the White House, and he used Trump’s “Make America Great Again ” slogan.  

But, tellingly, Sullivan never said Trump’s name.  

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito , R-WVa., hammered President Barack Obama for, she alleged, "cost 60,000 coal miners" their jobs. She also panned Clinton for promising to raise that figure even higher. Capito did not, however, talk about any potential Trump plan to help those very former mine workers. She did offer a few paragraphs to Trump's plans to create jobs and "do things differently," but they came at the end of her speech.  

Two freshmen GOP senators -- Nebraska’s Ben Sasse , a vocal Trump opponent, and Colorado’s Cory Gardner , who has not yet endorsed the nominee -- didn’t even bother to show up. (Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy has been in Baton Rouge since Sunday’s police shooting.)  

Ryan, who has been among the prominent Trump skeptics, alluded to a Trump presidency -- but focused most of his remarks on the economy, stopping Clinton and the ideological differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.  

Christie Says He Didn't Think Trump Would Pick Him for VP ] Attendees appeared to pay polite attention, but Ryan’s wonky speech -- a major contrast to Monday’s fire-and-brimstone about killing and capturing terrorists -- was met with light applause that seemed obligatory in many spots.  

Sen. Ron Johnson , R-Wis., led off with his own questioning of Clinton three years ago during a Senate hearing on Benghazi. He focused exclusively on national security issues despite the night's economic theme -- not on the man the party nominated just hours earlier.  

And House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy , R-Calif., mentioned Trump's name only once, and only near the end of his remarks.  

McConnell, who received some boos as he took the stage, led off his remarks by jabbing Clinton, saying she will say and do anything to become president. She’s in it for herself, not the American people, he said.  

When Americans ask “who’s looking out for us?” the answer is, according to McConnell: “It’s not Hillary.”  

[ Trump's Post-Pick Pence Panic ]   He aggressively cast the former secretary of state as a liar, about everything from the Benghazi attack to how she got her name. But just when it appeared McConnell, who has been reluctant at times to even talk about his party’s nominee, then rattled off Trump's name in repetition, saying President Trump would support a list of policies favored by Republicans. That includes conservative Supreme Court nominees.  

Convention_Votes_for_'Other'_Floor_Votes_Other_Than_Nominee_chartbuilder copy But when it was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ’s turn, he, too, opted against focusing on Trump. Instead, he laid out a case that Clinton is untrustworthy and lacks the judgement to be president.  

And though Trump included him on his vice presidential short list, Christie mentioned his name just once.  

--Bridget Bowman and David Hawkings contributed from Cleveland. Contact Bennett johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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