CLEVELAND — Security and safety came into sharp focus on the eve of the Republican convention, threatening to overshadow the first day of an event dedicated to safety and security.
The shooting death of three police officers in Baton Rouge further put the city on edge, as it was already grappling with the promise of multiple protests as well as an open carry law.
The unpredictability of the entire event—from the speakers on the stage inside the heavily fortified Quicken Loans Arena to the protesters outside the black, metal fencing—caused a dull current of nervousness as the 2016 Republican National Convention whirred to life.
“There will be some remarkably strident people here who want to mix it up,” Gordon Friedman, a criminal defense attorney with 40 years experience in Cleveland, told The Daily Beast. “It’s going to be wild. I just worry about the guns.”
As the news of the violence in Baton Rouge spread through Cleveland, concerns became so acute that the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association requested that Governor John Kasich impose a temporary shutdown of the open carry law in Cleveland.
Their request was swiftly denied.
Kasich, who addressed the Ohio Highway Patrol on Sunday afternoon, condemned the attacks in Baton Rouge in a video posted on Twitter, saying violence toward police only “drive[s] a wedge and destroy[s] the very fabric of our society.”
But later, he said through a spokeswoman that he didn’t have the power to put gun laws on ice during the convention.
“Ohio governors do not have the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws as suggested,” Emmalee Kalmbach, a Kasich spokeswoman, said. “The bonds between our communities and police must be reset and rebuilt—as we’re doing in Ohio—so our communities and officers can both be safe. Everyone has an important role to play in that renewal.”
The concern about chaos extended from the street into the arena, where a speakers’ list for Monday’s “Make America Safe Again” theme—dedicated to both tearing down Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy record and showing how Trump would keep everyone safe—revealed a mix of former law enforcement and military officials, D-list celebrities, and the candidate’s wife.
Some speakers on “Safe Again” day made sense: former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate, and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to name a few. But the rundown also included William Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, actor Scott Baio, and model/actor Antonio Sabato Jr., who came closest to keeping America safe in 2010 when he played a bouncer in one episode of the Fox drama Bones.
The line-up will also include Melania Trump, who had the longest biography in the preview sent to reporters, one that included important security-related credentials like her standing as “an active member of the Police Athletic League which honored her with Woman of the Year 2006.”
When asked about the rumor that Donald Trump will parachute into town to introduce his third bride, Trump consigliere Paul Manafort, demurred.
“Well, Donald Trump will be Donald Trump, ‘scripted’ is the wrong word... he will probably be making a couple of appearances but tomorrow night all we are confirming is that Melania will be there,” he said.
(RNC officials confirmed on background that even they were out of the loop of some of the Trump campaign surprises until the very last minute.)
Still, despite the uncertainty and the feeling of a gathering storm, RNC officials put on a happy face Sunday evening at a press conference.
Jeff Larson, CEO of the 2016 Republican National Convention, welcomed the assembled press, remarking about the balmy weather and talking excitedly about a fancy, new state-of-the- art screens where the convention will be projected for the nation to see.
“We have been planning this convention for well over a year, we look forward to kicking off tomorrow at 1 o’clock,” he said. “I think we are looking for a great convention.”
At one point when Manafort was being peppered with questions about whether Trump over-sold the speaker list, Larson began reading the names of the speakers aloud, as Manafort stepped aside and watched.
But never for a moment did Manafort leave any doubt who was in charge of the next three days.
Asked whether the ailing #NeverTrump movement would be able to create trouble on the floor, Manafort said the movement was dead.
“This is a Trump convention, yes, it’s the Republican National Committee, but the party is united. I mean, again, it’s much ado about very little,” he said. “It’s a few people who are holding out and they don’t reflect anything other than their own personal opinions.”
—with additional reporting by Tim Mak