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What to watch for at the Republican convention

GOP convention preview
GOP convention preview 05:09

It's finally here: Republicans and media alike are descending today on the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.

Over the next four days, top Republicans--including presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and his newly minted running mate, Mike Pence--will take the stage, and Trump will formally be nominated as the party's standard-bearer.

There's a lot going on, but how this week goes will answer a few big questions about Trump, his campaign and the state of the Republican Party heading into the general election. Here's CBS News' guide for what to watch over the next four days:

1.) Trump, Trump, Trump: How united will GOP be?

Since he effectively secured the GOP nomination in May, one of the biggest questions for Trump has been whether he would be able to earn the support of his Republican detractors and unify the party after a bruising and divisive primary.

Will the GOP meet its end at Cleveland conven... 04:25

Thus far, the results have been mixed: while Trump has the support of many top party leaders (think House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), even those who back him have expressed concerns with both Trump's style and temperament and some of his policy proposals. And then there are plenty of GOPers who haven't gotten on board with Trump, which is evident in the number of high-profile Republicans--both former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, for example, as well as 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney--who are planning on steering clear of Cleveland this week.

Many of Trump's former primary rivals still haven't endorsed him, including John Kasich, the governor of the state that's hosting the convention. Kasich, in fact, can also be counted among the Republicans who won't be attending the convention.

This week's confab is a big, high-profile way for Republicans to show--or not-- that they are putting aside their differences in the hopes of defeating Hillary Clinton in November. Watch both Trump's tone on unity (which is also to be the theme of his speech Thursday) as well as that of his skeptics: there are plenty of Republicans who don't care for Trump but are falling in line anyway to prevent a Democrat from holding the White House.

As former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, "Trump was not my first choice. But my momma used to say life is a series of choices. And if the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I'm going to be for Donald Trump every time."

2.) Pence's night: What's the reaction?

Expectations will be high for Pence when he takes the stage Wednesday night: he's officially been on the Republican ticket for all of two days, and the GOP convention is his first real chance to step up onto the national stage.

Early reactions to the pick from across the GOP seem largely positive, and Pence's selection could work to soothe some jittery Republicans who are turned off by Trump's positions on certain issues or feel he's insufficiently conservative to be the Republican Party's effective leader.

While it's still early, Pence's performance and the reaction to it will be a good indicator of how big an asset he'll be for Trump over the next four months.

3.) Trump's night: Reaction, what does he say, how does he deliver his remarks?

Trump campaign chair: "This is a Donald Trump... 02:12

When it comes to speaking style, there seem to be two Donald Trumps. On one hand, there's the Trump who shows up to his rally without a prepared speech and riffs, often for an hour or more, on whatever comes to mind; on the other, there's the slightly stilted Trump who reads prepared speeches from a teleprompter.

Which one will show up Thursday night when he gives his big speech on the convention stage? The GOP businessman has had plenty of big audiences before and has used the prompter for several recent speeches, but he declined to use it when he debuted his running mate Saturday. It didn't escape notice that Trump took nearly 30 minutes to get around to introducing Pence.

Also important is what Trump says. The campaign's announced theme for Thursday night, when Trump is slated to speak, is "Make America One Again," which seems to indicate that he could strike a more conciliatory tone than usual. On this pivotal night, voters will see if campaign chairman Paul Manafort was right to say on "Face the Nation," that voters will come away believing "that he's ready to be president of the United States."

4.) What's the message? How do they make Trump likable?

Conventions are where campaigns craft a story about their candidate and work to sell that story to the people tuning in each night. In 2012, Mitt Romney's team brought in people Romney had helped both through his church and in business; the presentations were an effort to soften the candidate's image after an onslaught of Democratic ads portraying him as a heartless millionaire.

A similar makeover is necessary for Trump, whose penchant for controversial comments hasn't exactly endeared him to many key groups of voters (women, African Americans and Latinos, for example). Trump himself has repeatedly insisted that he doesn't need to change or tone himself down, so the ways in which Trump's campaign works to recast his image--and the extent to which they attempt it--will be telling.

Campaign chairman Paul Manafort hinted at that on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, saying the convention is going to be "very personal" and viewers will get a "broader perspective of the man." "I mean, you're going to have his family speaking," he said. "You're going to have friends who have known him speaking. You're going to have people who have worked with him both inside the company and outside of the company."

5.) Speakers: Circus or more conventional than predicted?

Four years ago, Mitt Romney's big night on stage at the Republican convention began with Clint Eastwood talking to a chair--proof that these events can take a turn for the absurd sometimes.

RNC preview 02:37

This year, Trump, the ultimate political entertainer, is at the helm--and just as he's been far from conventional as a political candidate, his convention program looks significantly different than those in recent years. The convention speakers list includes people like actor Scott Baio, "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson and soap opera actress Kimberlin Brown.

(On the other hand, maybe the high expectations for "Apprentice"-style entertainment mean Cleveland could end up being more conventional than political observers are expecting.)

6.) What happens outside?

While there's sure to be plenty going on inside the convention arena, what may also be of interest is what happens outside the security zone. Thousands of protesters representing myriad causes are expected to take to the streets in Cleveland, prompting concerns about safety and security of the GOP delegates and attendees.

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said the city has prepared for a whole host of scenarios. "We've heard reports from different sources about everyone from anarchists to black separatists to just regular Trump followers, anti-Trump followers," he said. "Everybody has been, in some way, shape or form touted as coming to Cleveland to either cause trouble or exercise their First Amendment rights, but we're prepared for it all."

Things have gotten violent at a handful of Trump rallies this spring and summer, and officials worry that Cleveland could be many times worse--especially given both recent terror attacks and rising tensions between protesters and police. And further complicating things is the fact that Ohio is an open carry state, meaning police will be contending with not just protesters, but gun-toting protesters.

The open-carry law is making the Cleveland Police Union nervous, especially after the killing of three Baton Rouge police officers on Sunday. The union is calling on Ohio Gov. John Kasich to temporarily ban the open carry of weapons in the city during the Republican convention this week, but a Kasich spokeswoman said that the Ohio governor doesn't have the legal ability to suspend state laws.

7.) The meta

CBS News' Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett says that at this moment, "the dominant sense I get is of massive rationalization by a party that keeps telling itself it has no other choice, and its inherent tendency to follow the rules make it duty-bound to what ‎it doesn't want to do. If you tell yourself something false over and over it becomes true....Part of this is the mania that Hillary is the worst thing American politics has ever produced -- far worse than Trump."

This, Garrett observes, is part of a 25-year GOP process of obsession and demonization of All Things Clinton. Even for those on board, the arguments for Trump boil down to an indictment against Clinton.

Garrett says he'll also be watching for the Trump-managed effort to make the country believe he is a philanthropic soul who thinks and does based on genuine goodness and belief in making lives better --- despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

CBS News' Major Garrett and Sopan Deb contributed to this story.

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