BY KATHLEEN HENNESSEY AND ALAN FRAM
CLEVELAND (AP) — Braced for uncertainty and hoping for unity, Republicans on Monday prepared to kick off their convention to nominate Donald Trump as dissident delegates pursued one last chance to deny the front-runner and a nation reeled from another outburst of violence.
True to form, Trump himself provided the first surprise of the week, announcing Monday morning he was headed to Cleveland later in the day to introduce his wife Melania on the first night of speeches.
“I will be there,” Trump said on Fox News. “I want to watch. It is going to be very exciting.”
It was an earlier-than-expected arrival for a man who has shown little interest in tradition with his nominating show. But the next four days would undeniably be Trump’s moment – a week at the pinnacle of American politics that few could have imagined when the New York billionaire entered the race a year ago.
The lineup of speakers was aimed at showing off the man behind the mogul, his advisers said. Several family members and friends were slated to speak to his character and reveal a side of Trump that Americans may not know.
Along with Melania Trump, Monday’s opening night speeches included a mix of figures linked broadly under the theme of “Mark America Safe Again.” They included Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, as well as immigration advocates, a marine who fought in the Benghazi attack and entertainers, including actor Scott Baio and Willie Robertson, star of Duck Dynasty.
The speakers highlight the wedge Trump’s candidacy has driven through the GOP. Many party leaders and rising stars have steered clear of Cleveland, wary of being linked to the nominee. Some who were in town seemed intent on keeping a distance.
When House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke to Wisconsin delegates Monday morning, he made no mention of Trump in his remarks. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a vanquished Trump rival, planned several public appearances but wasn’t going to step inside the convention.
Top Trump adviser Paul Manafort called Kasich’s behavior “petulant.”
“He’s embarrassing his party, he’s embarrassing his party in Ohio,” Manafort said Monday morning at a Bloomberg breakfast
But the first act Monday was a last-gasp for the effort to stop Trump from sealing the deal. Delegates were due to vote Monday afternoon on the rules that will govern the convention week, and insurgent delegates circulated a petition on Monday trying to force a state-by-state vote – a move that could disrupt floor proceedings even if they fail.
Fourteen insurgent members of the convention rules committee late Sunday emailed their fellow GOP delegates asking them to oppose the rules that panel approved, saying its proposals included “abuses of power.”
Trump’s opponents want to change a rule that requires delegates to vote for the candidate to whom they were committed after state primaries and caucuses. Trump’s nomination is essentially automatic under the current rules, because he has far more than the 1,237 delegates required to win.
Some rebellious delegates threatened to walk out if they are thwarted. Should that occur in significant numbers, it could leave television cameras panning across empty seats.
“We won’t sit around and coronate a king,” said Colorado delegate Kendal Unruh, who like many insurgents has backed vanquished presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Trump’s campaign dismissed the effort.
“It’s not a movement,”Manafort said. “It’s some rogue, recalcitrant delegates.”
The roll call vote on the nomination was expected Tuesday, with Trump scheduled to close the convention with an acceptance speech late Thursday. Vice presidential pick Mike Pence is slated to speak Wednesday.
Trump would gain the nomination at a time of crisis and tumult at home and abroad, underscored Sunday by the deadly shooting of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Trump has sought to capitalize on the mood by casting himself as the “law and order candidate” and blasting Democrats for weak leadership in a crisis.
On Monday, he quickly linked the shooter to “radical Islam,” despite early indications he had no known ties to any extremist groups. Former Marine Gavin Eugene Long “seems to be a member of that group also. It seems to be something going on there,” Trump said on Fox News.
Noting a string of shootings and rising racial tensions, President Barack Obama on Sunday called for both parties to avoid “overheated” rhetoric during their convention. Obama urged both parties to avoid “careless accusations” intended to score political points.
Protests are widely expected outside the Quicken Loans Arena, where the city’s police chief, Calvin Williams, said Sunday it seemed everyone was arriving to “exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Democrats also angled for some of the attention.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign is spending about $1 million on TV ads in Ohio this week, according to Kantar Media’s campaign advertising tracker. Her campaign also put out a new digital ad Monday and pro-Clinton ads await Cleveland-area taxicab passengers.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Josh Lederman in Cleveland contributed to this report.