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GOP is having its ‘come to Trump’ moment

CLEVELAND — There’s always been a disconnect between what pundits and political insiders hear when Donald Trump speaks and what rank-and-file Republicans hear. But when Trump gave his acceptance address on the last night of the GOP convention here in Cleveland Thursday night, the opinion gap was absolutely vast.

To the critics offering first opinions on Twitter, Trump’s 75-minute speech was dark, angry, bigoted, fear-mongering, deceitful and more. And to the thousands of Republicans in the room at the Quicken Loans Arena, it was … great.

Immediately after Trump finished, as the halls filled with delegates and activists on their way to after-convention parties, I asked people for quick reactions to the speech. These are the first 20 reactions I got:

“Awesome.”

“He rocked it.”

“I loved it — it was fabulous.”

“Wonderful — everything about law and order and the military — it was huge.”

“Oh my gosh, I was blown away.”

“Great — very presidential, actually.”

“A grand slam.”

“Fabulous — will go down in history as a great speech.”

“LGBTQ — I was so happy. He nailed that one.”

“A phenomenal job. I get how he speaks to people.”

“It was a total out-of-body experience. I’ve never been so filled with hope and gratitude and excitement for our kids. He was John Wayne — the cavalry is on the way.”

“Ronald Reagan on steroids.”

“A home run, full of red meat for Republicans and conservatives.”

“Incredible — touched all the bases.”

“Superb — he hit every point. Just great.”

“He’s going to make American great again, and I believe him.”

“He’s so articulate about his vision and his plan, and he gives us confidence he can do it.”

“Entertaining and uplifting, with substance too.”

“Absolutely pitch perfect, full of details. There’s so much we have to fix.”

“I loved it. Four years ago it was one-man-one-woman, and this year we actually heard ‘LGBTQ.’ I teared up. It made me so happy.”

Of course, those were the people in the hall, committed Republicans all. They weren’t the millions of general-election voters watching on TV. But their reactions, along with a lot of other signs, suggested at the least that whatever Republican disunity existed going into the convention had disappeared going out.

“Everybody has a come-to-Trump moment,” a Southern politico who originally did not support Trump explained not long after Trump formally won the Republican nomination Tuesday night. The GOP’s get-on-board moment came later this year than in recent presidential elections, but it finally arrived at Quicken Loans on Thursday.

In a backhanded way, the previous night’s Ted Cruz debacle helped make it happen. What the widely negative reaction to Cruz showed was that the delegates and Republican activists gathered here no longer have any appetite for the conflicts of the GOP primary season.

Those conflicts officially ended when the 1,237th delegate cast a vote for Trump, making him the party’s nominee. Cruz tried to extend the fight. It didn’t work.

Day after day, delegates and other attendees said something like this: “Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice. But he’s the nominee. The primaries are over. It’s time to get behind him.”

Some added this: “I wasn’t all that happy about supporting John McCain, but they told me to support the party’s nominee. I wasn’t all that happy about supporting Mitt Romney, but they told me to support the party’s nominee. Now it’s time to support the party’s nominee.” …

There’s no doubt that for the Republicans who came to Cleveland, the convention, occasionally troubled, ended on a high note. (As such things go, the balloon drop at the end was epic.)

There seemed to be an unmistakable enthusiasm deficit in the convention’s first three days. … That changed with Trump’s appearance on Thursday. At the very least, the RNC finally had a lot of happy customers. The (vastly) bigger question, of course, is what those millions watching on TV thought.

Did they see darkness and anger, as the commentariat did? Or did they see an extraordinary political performer with the potential to actually fix the nation’s problems? Now the campaign begins in earnest.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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