Peeking behind the curtain as GOP loyalties shift to Trump

CNN correspondents and commentators experienced the 2016 presidential election in unique and interesting ways. This recollection and others were produced in conjunction with CNN's election project, "A Race Like No Other: The Unprecedented Election of 2016."

(CNN)The Republican National Convention was a rollercoaster ride from the outset. On Monday, we witnessed an open revolt on the convention floor — an unsuccessful last-ditch attempt to thwart Trump's nomination. By Tuesday, it was clear an effort to put Sen. Ted Cruz's name into nomination had sputtered out.

And, of course, there was all the side drama. Melania Trump's plagiarized convention speech. A (successful) effort to sneak Donald Trump's second wife, Marla Maples, into the convention via a loading dock so she wouldn't appear in the Trump family box but could still watch her daughter, Tiffany Trump, deliver a speech. And a very public feud between Trump's then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his ousted campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
Amid all the madness, delegates made it official Tuesday evening: Trump was the Republican nominee for president.
The GOP handwringing would continue for months, of course, but by Wednesday night, delegates were beginning to shed their somber hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-Trump attitudes and embrace the party atmosphere. It finally felt festive!
But it was the mayhem that unfolded late Wednesday evening that made me realize that the party — however begrudgingly — had indeed accepted Trump.
As Cruz prepared to take the stage and deliver a convention speech, rumors were flying about whether he would finally endorse Trump or snub the newly minted nominee.
I made my way through Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena and up to the suite level set aside for big GOP donors and elected officials.
Trump was hardly a favorite of the party's moneyed donors. But as they nibbled hors d'oeuvres and sipped champagne and cocktails, many of the donors' faces appeared shocked as it became clear Cruz was not going to endorse the nominee. He even said, "vote your conscience," the rallying cry for anti-Trump delegates.
As soon as Cruz finished his speech, top GOP fundraisers and elected officials spilled into the hallway — some openly enraged. An elected official from Ohio told a top Trump donor that he didn't even like Trump but was livid at Cruz nonetheless.
I was making my way back down to the convention floor when a source informed me I had abandoned the suite level too quickly. I had just missed Cruz, attempting to enter GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson's skybox. Cruz was rebuffed.
Two months later, Cruz would finally throw his support behind the GOP nominee.
It was Trump's party now.