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Trump adds flair to convention's dramatic 1st day

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(Copyright 2016 CNN)

CLEVELAND – With a dollop of the pizzazz that turned him into one of the most famous businessmen and celebrities in the world, presidential candidate Donald Trump made a dramatic entrance to the Republican National Convention on its first day.

The appearance, which was already a departure from tradition for a presumptive party nominee, took on a surreal air when Trump entered a darkened Cleveland convention hall, silhouetted by a bright backlight, as the audience roared. The podium for his speech rose from the floor as Trump strode across the stage.

"We're going to win so big," Trump told the crowd. "Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen; we're going to win so big."

Trump became known during the primary elections for his stream-of-consciousness addresses, but after that simple statement to the crowd Monday he introduced his wife, Melania, and stepped aside as "We Are the Champions" blared through the hall.

He said about 50 words his entire time on the stage.

It was perhaps the most electric moment on the opening day of the 2016 GOP convention, which follows a topsy-turvy primary race that exposed a deep rift between Republican voters and the party's establishment.

That Trump even appeared was a sign the outspoken billionaire will continue to run the campaign his way as he turns to a general election race against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will accept the Democratic Party's nomination next week in Philadelphia.

Presumptive nominees generally do not appear at the convention on the first day and do not speak at length and in person until the final day, which is capped off with the acceptance speech.

But it was in some ways a fitting end for a day that featured a speech by the star of the reality show "Duck Dynasty" and a floor fight over the party's rules. The official theme for the first night was "Make America Safe Again," with a focus on Trump's pledge to crack down on illegal immigration and wage a more ruthless war on terrorist groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

"What I did for New York, Donald Trump will do for America," said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, famous for steering his city through the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The night also zeroed in on the attack on a diplomatic outpost in Libya while Clinton was secretary of state. Her campaign was quick to respond that Trump would be a hazard to the nation.

"Donald Trump's ideas on foreign policy aren't just different --- they are dangerously incoherent. ... The choice in this election is clear, and we deserve better leadership for our nation --- and the world --- than Donald Trump," Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch said in a statement issued by the Clinton campaign.

The focus in Cleveland, though, inevitably kept returning to Trump and his attempts to unite a party trying to win a presidential election for the first time in 12 years.

Trump spoke hours after the floor had erupted into pandemonium following a decision to push through the party's rules on a voice vote. Some delegates --- many of whom had supported candidates other than Trump in state primaries earlier this year --- wanted a roll call vote on the rules to try to force consideration of changes to the primary process.

The rules' critics said they had gained the support of a majority of at least nine state delegations --- more than the seven required to request a roll call vote.

When Arkansas Congressman Steve Womack called for a voice vote, opponents of the rules protested loudly. The roar continued after Womack said delegates had approved the rules, and the convention essentially entered suspended animation for about 10 minutes.

Womack eventually took the stage again and carried out another voice vote as opponents chanted "Roll call vote!" After the second vote, Trump supporters began chanting "We want Trump!" in response. Womack then explained that three states had withdrawn their support for a roll call vote --- reducing to six the number of delegations that supported the move.

But some opponents of the rules, including U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, said they had support from as many as 11 states. Speaking on CNN, Lee said the Republican National Committee had created a "toxic environment" with its handling of the rules challenge, including lobbying some delegates to change their positions on a roll call vote.

"Why did they have to do that?" asked Lee, who supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas during the primaries. "Why not just allow for the vote? What are they afraid of?

Opponents of the rules tried to make it clear that the uprising was not necessarily part of the "Never Trump" movement that has opposed the businessman's blend of populism and nationalism as a betrayal of conservative principles. Ed Buchanan, a Wyoming delegate who supported the effort and chaired Cruz's campaign in his state, brushed off the idea that the raucous scene indicated the party was split.

"Today what you saw was what makes America great, which is we have a democracy, you can dissent, you can voice your opposition and you saw that today," Buchanan said. "This isn't chaos. This is American democracy in action. This is what makes this country great."

Regardless, the proceedings shattered the idea that Trump and the GOP had completely vanquished opponents and that the Cleveland gathering would be another one of the sedate conventions that have become the rule in recent years. For months during the primary elections, there was widespread speculation that delegates might arrive at the convention without any candidate having won a decisive victory.

Earlier Monday, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia told reporters that he thought the Never Trump movement had already fizzled out.

"I think it was dead before it got here," he said after a breakfast for the state's delegation at a hotel in the nearby city of Independence.

Ingoglia, who doubles as a state representative from Spring Hill, also pointed out that many of the Never Trump supporters are lifelong Republicans who would have a lot to lose if the party's nominee lost.

"All the hard work they've been doing for 20, 30, possibly 40 years, could be wiped away in one election if Hillary Clinton was elected president," he said.