CLEVELAND (THE WASHINGTON POST) - The bunting is out, the balloons are ready and Cleveland is awash in Republican activists, liberal protesters and reporters from the across the globe as the United States Republican National Convention kicks off later Monday (July 18).
The quadrennial confab where Donald Trump is expected to be officially nominated for president will be four days of speeches, meetings and parties.
For Trump, the convention comes at a crucial time. He is trying to put weeks of distracting feuds and staff turnover behind him and demonstrate to the country that he is the best-qualified candidate for the White House.
On Monday morning, he touted the facilities where the convention will be held. "You know we spent so much time building the center and it got built properly," he said in an interview on Fox News Channel. "It's beautiful. It's really one of the most beautiful I've seen of its kind and we're very proud of it."
For the city of Cleveland, the convention will be a test of its ability to maintain order and safety at a time when tension and deadly violence has erupted between police and African Americans across the country in recent weeks.
Nearly 5,000 delegates and alternates are gathering in Cleveland, which was hit by stormy weather Monday morning. The convention will also host about 15,000 credentialed media, organisers said.
Each day of the convention will feature a unique theme. Monday's theme is "Make America Safe Again," a twist on Trump's signature "Make America Great Again" motto. The day's speeches are expected to underscore national security, immigration and foreign policy themes.
Monday's speakers are an eclectic mix of television stars, military veterans, members of Congress and Trump's wife Melania. On Fox, Trump said his wife would talk about her immigrant experience and her "love of (the) country."
Two of Monday's speakers are US senators and Iraq war veterans: Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who served in the top job in New York City during the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, will also speak.
Soap opera actor Antonio Sabato Jr, actor Scott Baio and "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson are also scheduled to speak. Retired Army Lt Gen Michael Flynn ,who Trump considered to be his vice presidential running mate, will deliver an address as well.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a strident Trump critic as a candidate for president, is on the schedule of speakers. His fellow Texan and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul is also on the slate.
Later in the week, Trump and his running mate Mike Pence will address the convention. In their first joint television interview, which aired Sunday night, Trump and the Indiana governor sought to project a unified front. But the mogul often overshadowed his running mate and differences between the two were magnified.
In the interview on CBS's "60 Minutes," Trump was confronted with Pence's vote to authorise force in Iraq as a member of the US House in 2002."I don't care," responded Trump, who has claimed that he was an early critic of the Iraq war."What do you mean you don't care?" asked Lesley Stahl, who conducted the interview."It's a long time ago. And he voted that way and they were also misled. A lot of information was given to people," Trump said.
The real estate mogul said Pence was "entitled to make a mistake every once in a while." But Clinton?"No. She's not," Trump said.
In interview on NBC's "Today" on Monday morning, Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort sought to downplay the divide between the two."On a number of the issues, it's margins, it's not disagreement on the issues," said Manafort.
Amid concerns about violence around the convention, the head of Cleveland's largest police union called for Ohio Governor John Kasich to temporarily ban open carrying of gun as crowds of protesters and politicians arrived in town before the Republican National Convention.
A spokeswoman for Kasich said Sunday that the governor could not suspend open carry.
While Trump is not scheduled to speak until the final night of the convention, organisers said that he may frequently appear. And Trump himself teased on Fox Monday that he may be in attendance to hear his wife speak.
"Donald Trump will be Donald Trump. Scripted is the wrong word," Manafort told reporters Sunday. "He will probably be making a couple of appearances." He added: "It's going to be a different kind of convention. We're not going to have the traditional wall-to-wall speakers from Washington."