CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention kicked off Monday afternoon with a divisive fight over party rules and future presidential nominee Donald Trump, but the party recovered a measure of unanimity by the evening with a series of searing attacks on likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
The mother of one of the four Americans killed in Benghazi accused Mrs. Clinton of lying to her and said she should be in prison. Some of the security contractors who defended the diplomatic post in Libya’s second city that September night in 2012 said their comrades in arms would still be alive if the former secretary of state had done her job.
“If Hillary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?” said Patricia Smith, mother of Sean Smith, the Foreign Service officer who was killed in the attack.
The blistering speeches appeared to stitch back together a Republican Party that hours earlier suffered an embarrassing show of dissension, as party leaders steamrolled over anti-Trump forces demanded a roll call vote on whether to adopt the party’s rules that cement Mr. Trump as the nominee.
The rules mean the delegates won by Mr. Trump in the primaries are bound to vote for him on the floor, giving him far more than the 1,237 needed to be nominated.
Anti-Trump delegates were enraged, saying the party denied them the chance to force a roll call vote on the rules. They said if they could defeat the rules, delegates would be free to vote their conscience, creating the opening for someone other than the outspoken billionaire to emerge.
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But party leaders cut them off, saying they failed to collect enough valid signatures to force a roll call vote. Instead, a voice vote was held — and Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, acting as convention chairman at the time, said the “aye” votes won and pounded his gavel.
“This is a fixed convention,” shouted Diana Shores, an anti-Trump delegate from Virginia. Others chanted, “Roll call vote.”
The messy party business all took place in the afternoon, when viewership was likely lower. By the prime-time session, the focus had turned to the general election, painting it not as a referendum on Mr. Trump but rather a choice between him and Mrs. Clinton on who could best keep America safe at home and abroad.
Two members of the security team in Benghazi in 2012 detailed the mortar attack first against the diplomatic post that killed visiting U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and later against a nearby CIA annex, where two former Navy SEALs died.
“Benghazi’s been a four-letter word. But it’s not about politics. Benghazi’s about opportunities,” said Mark Geist, one of the two defenders that night. “Opportunities taken when we defied stand-down orders and opportunities squandered when Hillary failed to protect her people on the ground. Had she done her job that night, we wouldn’t have had to compromise the annex. Ty, Glen, Sean and Ambassador Stevens would be alive today.”
The Clinton campaign immediately fired back, saying nobody in the U.S. government ordered security to stand down that night.
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“The fact is, all of the numerous official sources analyzing the military response — from the countless interviews with military officials, to congressional reports, to the Independent Accountability Review Board — have concluded that the military did everything it could, given the circumstances, in their response to the attacks,” the Clinton campaign said.
A couple of Code Pink demonstrators Monday made it into the Republican National Convention and and unfurled banners that read “We can stop war now” and “refugees welcome.”
Both were escorted out by security guards without disrupting the speakers more than a few seconds.
The theme of the convention’s first day was “Make America safe again” — a riff on Mr. Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again.”
Retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn said that Mr. Trump “knows that the primary role of the president is to keep us safe.”
“He recognizes the threats we face and is not afraid to call them what they are,” Mr. Flynn said. “Donald Trump’s leadership, decision-making and problem-solving abilities will restore America’s role as the undeniable and unquestioned world leader.”
But the evening’s message of unity was muffled by the noise the anti-Trump forces made earlier in the day, a sign of the presumptive nominee’s continuing difficulties in getting the party behind his candidacy.
The dissidents said they had submitted enough names from at least 10 states to force a roll call vote, and they sent alerts calling on delegates to make sure they were in their seats in time to vote.
The convention held a voice vote. It was unclear who won because all sides shouted over one another. Party officials declared the rules adopted and then fled the dais, leaving the convention to descend into a chaotic din.
“This is surreal,” said Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who backed Sen. Ted Cruz during the primaries and who pushed for rules changes. “I mean, the chair walked off the stage. He completely abandoned his post. Meanwhile, we got what appears to be a jazz band. They are doing a great job, playing some lovely music off in the distance.”
Mr. Womack, the acting chairman of the convention, eventually returned to the dais and announced a do-over vote. This time, the “aye” votes appeared to overwhelm the “no” votes. Mr. Womack banged the gavel and declared the rules adopted, cutting off any further efforts to dissent.
Mr. Womack explained that no roll call vote was in order because only nine delegations had submitted names calling for a roll call, and delegates from three of those delegations withdrew their signatures, denying the anti-Trump forces the number required to force a full tally. Sean Spicer, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said later that the District of Columbia, Minnesota and Maine had withdrawn their signatures.
Anti-Trump delegates vowed to demand an audit.
“I live in communist China,” said Kim Fralick, a delegate from Louisiana.
Dave Waters, a co-founder of Delegates Unbound, a movement trying to give delegates the right to vote their “conscience” instead of being required to support Mr. Trump, called the parliamentary maneuvers an outrage and a sign that Mr. Trump’s backers were nervous about how the roll call might have gone.
“If Donald Trump truly has the support, let the delegates freely choose him,” Mr. Waters told reporters in the confusion right after the floor rebellion, insisting the fight was not over.
Some of the delegates seeking a roll call on the rules package had sought, among other things, to ban lobbyists from serving on the RNC and to have the party close the primary contests in the first four states to hold votes and provide incentives to others that limit participation to Republican voters.
Others were hoping to allow delegates to vote for candidates other than Mr. Trump.
After exhausting all their options, the two sides came together in hopes of forcing a roll call.
“We were both backed into the only corner left, which was opposing the rules,” said former Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who described the rules package as a “crap sandwich.”
Minutes after the rules vote, the convention adopted its party platform with far less trouble.
The platform melds Mr. Trump’s call for tougher immigration enforcement and a skepticism of free trade deals with social conservatives’ priorities on questions of abortion and religious freedom.
The ruckus on the convention floor had echoes of the 2012 convention, when delegates supporting Rep. Ron Paul of Texas disrupted proceedings on the first day of Mitt Romney’s convention in Tampa, Florida, to protest rules changes that they said locked out their candidate.
The outbursts were nearly identical, with delegates booing, demanding speaking time and accusing the chairman of subverting the democratic process.
Some of the same rules were a point of contention Monday, except the insurgent delegates wanted to change the rules back to the way they were before 2012.