CLEVELAND – Donald Trump promised to deliver a showbiz-style Republican National Convention that would strongly unite the party before heading into the November general election.
But some Republicans are leaving Cleveland feeling as if they just walked out on a family feud at the Thanksgiving dinner table. And fractures within the GOP might be further realized next week, if Democrats show a strongly unified front at their convention, which kicks off Monday.
Spats between some Republican leaders and the nominee continued to erupt from there: Ohio Republicans fired back at Trump’s campaign manager and then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz inflamed the convention hall when he advised delegates to "vote your conscience."
The disagreements have left some wondering if the party is fully behind Trump as he departs Ohio.
“There were certain steps taken toward unity but there were also certain things done that hurt the unification process,” said Ohio Rep. Niraj Antani, a delegate who cited the Trump campaign’s digs at Kasich as an issue. Some of Ohio's 66 delegates were spotted giving Trump and his speakers tepid applause at the convention throughout the week, which drew criticism from Trump supporters.
That series of missteps was on display for the world to watch this week but, overall, the Republican Party’s inability to act harmoniously for just five days was the biggest problem, said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven.
“On this, the Republicans couldn’t have failed more spectacularly,” Niven said. “When the person who finishes second gets booed off the stage and won’t endorse the nominee, you’re not in all this together.”
Both parties are still recovering from a bruising primary season. While the Republicans' presidential candidates have spent much of the year hurling insults at one another, Hillary Clinton was locked in a bitter battle with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who refused to relinquish his run, even after Clinton had earned enough delegates to win the nomination.
So Democrats will have some work to do next week as they come together to nominate Clinton.
But Democrats will head into their convention with a clear advantage: Sanders finally offered his support to Clinton earlier this month while Trump’s Republican rivals, Cruz and Kasich, refused to endorse him.
“They had a very, very heated primary but Democrats have a reputation for being extremely, extremely unified at all times and – very disciplined in that – which is something we could work on,” Antani said of his party.
And, Niven points out that Clinton is likely to tightly control the message at the DNC. He expects every speaker who takes the stage will give a resounding endorsement of Clinton.
“They could certainly disagree over an issue or two but Bernie Sanders is not going to get up at the convention and say ‘vote your conscious’ – that would be unfathomable,” Niven said.
Democrats hope to see Sanders’ delegates finally rally around Clinton at the convention next week. That possibility became more realistic earlier this month, when Sanders formally endorsed Clinton.
If that happens, viewers watching the conventions from home might get the impression that the Democratic Party is the unified one while the Republicans are still struggling to get a disjointed bunch to join the Trump train.
“Ohioans tuning into both national conventions will see a remarkable difference that underscores the stark choice they will have in November,” Harrell Kirstein, a spokesman for Ohio Hillary for America, said in a statement.
Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou, who backs Trump, hopes the DNC will turn out to be a major rallying point for the GOP.
Even while they bickered behind the scenes, Republicans spent much of their time united in their eagerness to bash Clinton this week at Quicken Loans Arena. They warned that the country’s debt, gun rights and national security are in jeopardy under her watch. Delegates were often heard chanting “lock her up” on the floor.
Republicans wearing T-shirts or wielding signs that read “Hillary for Prison” were common sightings in the convention hall and around Cleveland.
So, just hours before thousands of red, white and blue balloons dropped and Trump officially accepted his party’s nomination, some Republicans hoped it would be another presidential nominee who might really bring the party together – Hillary Clinton.
“We have work to do, but I’m confident that voters will turn out when faced with the clear choice of Hillary or Trump,” Triantafilou said in a text message. “Next week’s Hillary love fest will further unite us.”