Texas delegates donned their signature cowboy hats and the delegation from Hawaii sported live floral leis.
But beneath the party atmosphere on the floor of the Republican National Convention, there remains deep-seated distaste for the presumptive presidential nominee.
Interviews with delegates from around the country found many still reluctant Monday to embrace Donald Trump – despite the party’s efforts to project unity with a four-day pageant designed to showcase the celebrity billionaire. This a day before a majority will vote to nominate Trump as the party’s candidate for president as pledged in caucuses and primaries.
Those reservations erupted into a contentious fight on the opening day of the convention Monday with delegates shouting over and at each other – and at least one state delegation storming out of the convention hall in protest.
“He’s a bad person,” said Tyler Mott, a Tucson, Arizona, delegate. “We’ve had a party based on ideals, on equal rights for people, fighting slavery, and he’s a caricature of everything the Democratic Party has portrayed us as.”
“I have dozens of objections to Donald Trump. Where do I start?” said Eric Minor, 49, a Washington state delegate who helped to lead an unsuccessful effort to hold a roll call vote that would have allowed delegates to vote their consciences – and presumably against Trump. “There’s no party unity here for me.”
He charged party leaders with looking to stifle dissent.
“They do not want Trump to be embarrassed and they want to ramrod him through as the nominee,” Minor said.
As the Republican Party kicked off its four-day convention, interviews show Trump still has considerable work to do within his own party, let alone the broader electorate.
“I ask Trump fans, ‘What’s his guiding principle?’ I hear crickets,” said Douglas Brubaker, 55, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “If he does have one, I don’t know what it is, other than it’s all about him.”
Still, Brubaker, who calls himself an “ardent” supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said he wasn’t convinced that the “never Trump” movement had a Plan B candidate.
“There’s no reason to ball it all up if you can’t put the pieces back,” he said.
Trump has his enthusiastic supporters: Marianne Stearns of Pittsburgh has been with him since he announced his run for the presidency and she carried a Donald Trump live action figure with her around the convention hall Monday. She likes how he relates to people, from blue collar workers to business executives.
By the end of this convention, they’re going to come around.
Trump supporter Marianne Stearns
“By the end of this convention, they’re going to come around,” she said of Trump critics. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Yet in many states, the antipathy is deep. Just eight of Minnesota’s 38 delegates back Trump, according to a survey of delegates by Minnesota Public Radio.
Doug Seaton, 69, of Edina, Minnesota, is now backing Trump, though the candidate wasn’t his first, second or even third choice. He predicted that the party will come around, noting that unity has been achieved many times before, as wounds from combative primaries heal.
“I’ve been converted and I think he will win,” said Seaton, a black tricorner hat perched on his head, a tie emblazoned with the U.S. Constitution around his neck.
“I know he’s a different kind of candidate and I know he makes some Republicans nervous, but everyone comes with a few rough spots included,” Seaton said.
Trump has a few too many rough spots, however, for Amy Davis, 41, a Bellevue, Washington, mom and part-time science fiction writer.
“I cannot currently vote for the nominee. I’m hoping he can earn my vote,” Davis said. “Right now, however, he is insufficiently committed to conservative principles.”
Among his other transgressions: “He needs to cease his disparaging comments about his fellow Republicans and stop belittling women.”
I cannot currently vote for the nominee, I’m hoping he can earn my vote.
Trump critic Amy Davis
Davis said she was heartened by Trump’s support for what she says is a rigorously conservative party platform that includes strong support for Israel.
She was less impressed by Trump’s selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, whom she said she’d greeted with a “meh,” as his running mate. Pence is “not a strong enough conservative to move the needle,” she said, thanks to what she saw as his decision to cave to gay rights activists in walking back an Indiana law that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs.
She backed Cruz in the primary, but she said that even a Cruz endorsement – which has yet to come – would sway her.
“I’ll make up my own mind,” she said.