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Republican National Convention 2016 opening day: start time, schedule, and what to expect

Republican National Convention: Day One Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

It's finally here: On Monday, July 18, the Republican National Convention will kick off in Cleveland, Ohio, beginning at 12:50 pm Eastern. C-SPAN is airing the convention, gavel to gavel, with most major networks and cable news stations providing evening coverage. The RNC is also streaming the proceedings live on YouTube:

The first night's theme is Make America Safe Again, and the evening speakers, who include retired Lt. Gen. and former Trump VP possibility Michael Flynn and US Sen. and retired Army National Guard Lt. Col. Joni Ernst, suggest a focus on national security.

But probably the biggest attraction is aspiring first lady Melania Trump, who is scheduled to speak before Flynn and Ernst.

The schedule:

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is scheduled to call the convention to order at 12:50 pm; you can read the full list of speakers, who are not given set times, here.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem, and an invocation by Rabbi Ari Wolf, there will be remarks by Priebus, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who is chairing the convention's Committee on Arrangements, Democratic Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Pat Roberts (R-KS), and National Republican Congressional Committee head Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR).

Following the initial set of remarks, there will be reports from the convention's Committees on Credentials and Permanent Organization, Rules, and Platform, and remarks from Committee on Platform co-chairs Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK) and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC).

The convention then recesses until 7:50 pm Eastern, at which point the evening speakers begin. The major ones, in order of appearance, are:

  • Willie Robertson, star of Duck Dynasty
  • Rick Perry, former governor and presidential candidate (R-TX)
  • Marcus Luttrell, a retired Navy SEAL and Afghanistan/Iraq veteran who was portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the film Lone Survivor
  • Scott Baio, an actor known for his roles as Chachi on Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi, and Bob Loblaw on Arrested Development
  • Mark Geist and John Tiegen, former members of the Benghazi Annex Security Team during the Benghazi attacks
  • Kent Terry and Kelly Terry-Willis, appearing in honor of their brother Brian Terry, a border patrol agent who died on duty
  • Antonio Sabato Jr., former General Hospital actor
  • Mary Ann Mendoza, whose son died in a car accident involving an undocumented immigrant; Sabine Durden, whose son also died in a car accident involving an undocumented immigrant; Jamiel Shaw, whose son was killed in a gang shooting involving an undocumented immigrant
  • Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX), chair of the Committee on Homeland Security
  • David A. Clarke Jr., sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and a vocal critic of criminal justice reform and Black Lives Matter
  • Sean Duffy, Congress member and former Real World contestant (R-WI), and his wife, Rachel Duffy
  • Darryl Glenn, the Republican nominee for Senate in Colorado
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), an Afghanistan/Iraq veteran
  • Karen Vaughn, anti-Obama activist whose son, a Navy SEAL, was killed in Afghanistan
  • Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), an early Trump supporter and anti-immigration advocate
  • Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and 2008 presidential candidate
  • Melania Trump, the presumptive presidential nominee’s wife
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former Defense Intelligence Agency director and Trump VP finalist
  • Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard
  • Jason Beardsley, adviser for Concerned Veterans of America
  • Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), a retired Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and won two Bronze Stars

What to expect:

Cleveland Prepares For Upcoming Republican National Convention
Sen. Tom Cotton at a mic check on July 17.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Monday is all about national security and, from the looks of it, will focus more on deficiencies in President Obama’s record than on Donald Trump’s actual platform.

That makes sense: Conventions are meant to be unifying events, and Trump’s statements on foreign affairs have been among the most divisive elements of his campaign, at least among Republicans. While mainstream Republicans like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush remain committed to basic neoconservative principles, and continue to defend the Iraq invasion against all odds, Trump has been blunt in attacking the Iraq War as a blunder, even going so far as to lie about having opposed it before it began.

More than that, Trump has argued that the Bush administration actively lied about leading the country into war. "They lied," he said in a Republican debate in February. "They said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction." When Jeb Bush pushed back, Trump countered with, "The World Trade Center came down during your brother's reign. Remember that?"

This is, suffice it to say, not the view the GOP foreign policy establishment takes of the Bush administration, which they continue to view as a group of brave men and women committed to spreading democracy and freedom who have been smeared by ungrateful liberals at home because of an honest mistake about WMDs. That’s a big reason why neoconservatives like Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, and Robert Kagan are supporting Hillary Clinton over Trump.

So you should expect the speakers on Monday to avoid mentioning the Bush administration and its decision-making altogether and focus instead on the point of agreement between Trump and neoconservatives: The Obama administration is a disaster.

The speaker list suggests a particularly Trumpy way of making this argument. The neocon line on Obama is that he refused to intervene in Syria, allowing a brutal civil war to fester and contributing to the growth of ISIS, and that more generally he has been pursuing a foolish realignment of the United States away from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and toward Iran.

Trump’s argument is simpler: Obama isn’t tough enough. He’s too afraid of violating human rights to do stuff like kill terrorists’ families. He let the US take a crummy deal with Iran. He abandoned Americans in Benghazi. And, of course, he lets too many immigrants into the US where they can terrorize people — especially if they’re Muslim refugees.

So Trump invites Benghazi troops, and family members of people victimized (in his view) by undocumented immigrants, and veterans who fought valiantly but were betrayed by their weak leaders. The hawkish politicians he has speaking are people like Tom Cotton, who bridge the gap between Trump (whom Cotton has embraced and whose idiosyncratic views on NATO he’s endorsed) and the neoconservative movement (which has backed Cotton for years, especially as he became the Iran deal’s leading opponent), and who are themselves veterans.

And then, of course, there’s Melania Trump. I won’t even pretend to guess what she’s going to say.

Correction: This post originally misstated the starting time of the evening portion of Monday's RNC.

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