By Kristi Ellis
with contributions from Alexandra Steigrad
 on July 18, 2016

CLEVELAND — It might have been the long and divisive slog through the primaries or the controversial and unconventional candidacy of Donald Trump, but whatever the reason, the GOP was eager to show a unified front and let loose a little, as its convention started here.

Nearly 5,000 delegates and alternates converged on the Quicken Loans Arena here Monday seeking to find some unity in a party splintered by its presumptive nominee, Trump.

Law enforcement was on high alert in the wake of shootings in Baton Rouge, La., and Dallas that killed several law enforcement officers. While protesters were vocal, most demonstrations at the start of the convention were held peacefully.

The delegates were set to adopt the platform on Monday, while the four-day confab will feature most members of Trump’s family, including his wife Melania, his daughter, Ivanka, and sons Eric and Donald Jr.

The list of speakers might be more notable for the absences of prominent Republicans than it is for those scheduled to speak. Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, faced a barrage of questions this morning about how the party could unify in the absence of major GOP donors and party leaders, who have essentially shunned their candidate.

“Healing takes time,” Manafort said. “We understand that,” stressing that reunification is happening despite the no-shows.

Under the banner convention theme of “Make America Great Again,” Manafort said the Trump campaign has four objectives over the four days of the convention: to introduce Trump’s story and biography to the broader public, to lay out what he called the “indictment of the Obama/Clinton years,” to present Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as an establishment candidate, and to unify the party.

Manafort said Melania Trump, who is slated to speak at about 10 p.m., will be one in a series of family testimonials throughout the week. She will be accompanied by Trump himself, who is flying in from New York for the speech and then flying back with her after she delivers it. He will return to the convention on Wednesday and Thursday, where he is slated to accept his party’s nomination.

“It will describe Donald Trump the man,” Manafort said of her prepared speech. “It’s part of what we think is historic,” adding that he has never seen such a concentration of family members used to show the “inner personality of the candidate.”

Roughly 15,000 journalists have descended on Cleveland this week to document the speeches, protests and events associated with the convention. In many ways, the week is just as much about the media circus surrounding Trump as it is about the political process.

Go-to events include Glamour and Facebook’s “Moving & Mimosa” brunch on Tuesday; Buzzfeed’s “Red, White and Blacklisted” rooftop party Tuesday night; Cosmopolitan and Twitter’s joint panel discussion “Women Power Politics” on Wednesday during happy hour, and the Washington Post and Buzzfeed’s “Post Game Party” later that night.

Throughout the week, Politico and The Atlantic will run a host of panels and talks, while CNN takes over local restaurant Harry Buffalo and turns it into a restaurant and broadcast hybrid space dubbed the “CNN Grill,” which will be a place where journalists will supposedly “grill” political types over drinks and bites.

As for Fox News, it will broadcast its ensemble show “The Five” from a campaign bus for both conventions over the course of the next two weeks. According to Fox, the bus will make pit stops at local hot spots along the way and welcome guests on board.

For more overt comedic humor, a trove of late night shows will broadcast live from Cleveland, including “Real Time with Bill Maher,” CBS’s “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” Comedy Central will also have a strong presence with “The Daily Show” under host Trevor Noah.

Party loyalists reflected the disenchantment over the last eight years of the Obama administration at the “welcoming” party for delegates on Sunday at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, where bands with names such as “Second Amendments” belted out tunes.

Delegates, many of whom were small business owners keen to see Trump elected, shared their personal stories.

Tina Harris, a delegate and broker associate with Future Home Realty in Florida, said she is confident Trump’s experience as a businessman will help the economy. “He’s a businessman. He’s actually had to meet a payroll. He understands what that is and I think he will understand how the economy works. It can only get better,” she said.

She said her daughter owns two bakeries in Southern California, with 40 employees and said a $15 minimum wage, hailed by Clinton and the Democrats, would “put her out of business.” She said she believes a minimum wage is the floor from which employees can rise as they gain experience.

Richard Aguilar, president and chief executive officer at Aguilar Productions, an Hispanic marketing company in St. Paul, Minn., said he was not offended by Trump’s comments on immigration and also believes he will be strong on business and immigration.

Aguilar said he was born in the U.S., but his parents were from Mexico. “I don’t know one successful businessman who hasn’t failed once or twice,” he said. “I think he will be strong on business and I think the Chinese and Mexicans fear him.”

Aguilar said Trump has tapped into a real anxiety that Americans feel about the economy and their jobs, and he said trade has been a factor. “We do have some bad trade deals,” he added. “You can go around America and talk to people who had jobs at one time but now don’t. That’s the reality.”

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