Donald Trump supporters celebrated their once unthinkable capture of the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday night as state delegates took turns to count up the votes from his remarkable sweep of the party’s 2016 primary election.
Crossing the threshold of 1,237 votes, Trump officially became the Republican party’s nominee for president, as the stage in Cleveland was illuminated with a message proclaiming: “Over the Top”.
Later, a giant image of the nominee was beamed into the arena, live via satellite link from Trump Tower in New York City. “I am so proud to be your nominee for president of the United States,” Trump said. “With your vote today this stage of the presidential process has come to a close.
“Together we have received historic results, with the largest vote total in the history of the Republican party. This is a movement and we have to go all the way.”
In the three-minute address, Trump anticipated his big convention speech, rattling through a list of policies such as strengthening the border, “getting rid” of Isis, and “restoring law and order”.
“I’ll be discussing all that on Thursday night,” he said. “But together most importantly we’re going to make America great again.”
The official confirmation of the 2016 nominee was in little doubt after a last-minute procedural rebellion was quickly killed off on Monday, but the ceremonial “call of the roll of states” served as a powerful reminder of the scale of his victory over 16 competing candidates with the largest ever vote haul in a Republican primary.
“It is my honour to throw Donald Trump over the top with 89 delegates,” said his son Donald Trump Jr as he announced the results from his home state of New York. “Congratulations Dad, we love you.”
“Today has been one special day, watching my children put me over the top earlier,” his father told the hall later. “I’ll never forget it. It’s something I will never forget.”
Each of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and far-flung Pacific territories took turns to read out their delegate split, inducing huge cheers and the occasional jeers when the turn came to the handful of contests won by rivals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich.
“To paraphrase Buffalo Springfield, there is something happening here and what it is is exactly clear,” said the South Carolina lieutenant governor, Henry McMaster, as he seconded the proposed nomination of Trump. “This is not a dream. This is the real thing. This is deadly serious,” added McMaster, who wasthe first elected official in the country to endorse Trump in January.
Those closest to the campaign greeted Trump’s vindication by pointing out just how few politicians, pundits and journalists ever thought his national victory – secured in a total of 38 states – was possible.
Earlier in the day, campaign chairman Paul Manafort said the nomination was the “culmination of a one-year campaign by Mr Trump, a campaign that defied expectations of pundits and the political class”.
“He is excited that his quest will finally come to an end and all of you who doubted him will no longer be able to say ‘yes, but it may never happen’,” he told reporters. “So we are excited about that.”
The few figures of the party establishment who have travelled to Cleveland were also paraded on stage on Tuesday to give their blessing to the Trump coronation.
House speaker Paul Ryan, a longtime critic of Trump’s divisive rhetoric on race and immigration, was required to oversee the proceedings in his capacity as convention chair.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who was also slow the endorse the nominee at first, was due to lead a group of 10 freshmen senators on stage to pay their respects.
Later Ryan, the most senior Republican in Congress, addressed the hall, but his speech offered no tribute to Trump personally and no affirmation of the nominee’s ideas, which in many cases have radically broken with Republican orthodoxy.
Ryan’s first mention of Trump was his promise that at the next state of the union address, “you’ll find me right there on the rostrum with Vice-President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump”, at which the crowd began chanting Trump’s name.
The House speaker alluded briefly to his public disagreements with the nominee – he has called Trump’s comments about a judge of Mexican heritage “the textbook definition of a racist comment”, for example – saying: “Have we had our arguments this year? Sure we have – and you know what I call those? Signs of life.”
But he returned to Trump only once more in his speech, after a long attack on Hillary Clinton and a discourse on Republican values. “Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way,” he said.
McConnell also launched an attack on Clinton, who he said would “say anything, do anything, and be anything to get elected president”.
He added: “If Hillary is president, we will continue to slide, distracted by the scandals that follow the Clintons like flies.”
The Senate majority leader listed a number of conservative issues he said Trump would take action on, including repealing Obamacare and defunding women’s health organization Planned Parenthood. But he also took care to point out that Senate Republicans “would never hesitate to confront this president”.
Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who risked his reputation by becoming an early backer of Trump, was more effusive. “We are about to be led by not only a strong leader but by a caring, genuine and decent person,” said Christie, who had hoped to be chosen as Trump’s vice-president.
The former New Jersey US attorney used his speech to lay out an imaginary legal case against Clinton for perceived foreign policy failures and crimes such as “lying to the American people about her selfish, awful judgment”.
“Hillary Clinton, guilty or not guilty?” he asked repeatedly, prompting a bellow of “Guilty!” from the crowd each time, often followed by chants of “Lock her up!”
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who began the lengthy nominating process at 6pm in Cleveland by formally proposing Trump, explained the once shocking outcome as a product of the troubled mood among American voters.
“Americans love our country like no other country on earth, but we have gotten off course and the American people know it,” said Sessions. “This time it is different. One man, Donald Trump, was not intimidated … He could not be silenced, he gave voice to the people’s concerns,” he added. “He said that trade deals had hurt our people, that our border must be strong, that we must defeat the terrorists who have attacked us.”
The Alabama senator also hailed Trump as a unifier in the face of partisan gridlock in Washington: “We operate like the tench warfare system of World War One, where hundreds of thousands die but no ground is won.”
But the competing passions among even Republican activists were on display in the convention centre as they booed the few states that had a majority of delegates against Trump.
Others took the opportunity to list their state’s attributes before a primetime TV audience – “Alaska – energy, tourism, fishing!” – or boast of their loyalty: “Western Samoa, the whole kit and caboodle – all nine delegates to the future president of the United States, Donald J Trump.” California boasted that it was “100% rock solid” with 172 votes, even though all other candidates had dropped out of the race by the time it reached this most populous state.
McMaster recalled the long lines at Trump campaign rallies all year, with supporters “waiting nine, ten hours just for a chance to get inside the building”. “He may be the only man perfectly equipped the win the ferocious battle ahead,” said McMaster.
“Donald Trump is not merely a candidate. Donald Trump is a movement,” concluded New York congressman Chris Collins as he also seconded the formal proposal of the candidate. “Western New York has been devastated by unfair trade deals, allowing countries like China and Mexico to steal our jobs,” he added.