vision 2020

Coronavirus May Derail the Republican Convention After All

Trump and Pence at the 2016 convention in Cleveland. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

As Democrats openly talked about holding a “virtual convention” this year thanks to coronavirus concerns, Republicans initially followed Donald Trump in chest-thumping denials that they would let some Chinese plague spoil their celebration of his presidency in Charlotte this August. But now the first signs are emerging that they do indeed have contingency plans for a diminished live convention with virtual features.

Indeed, earlier this week, while announcing again “there will be no virtual convention,” GOP chair Ronna McDaniel admitted that just meant some portion of the proceedings would be live. And now the New York Times is reporting that a scaled-back event could already be in the works:

[B]ehind the scenes, Republicans are looking at possible contingency plans, including limiting the number of people who descend on Charlotte to only delegates, and making alternate delegates stay home, according to interviews with a half-dozen Republicans close to the planning.

And despite his taunts at Joe Biden for planning a convention where he might not actually show up, Trump is not pitching a fit about the backup planning:

Mr. Trump, who was heavily involved in the staging of his last nominating convention, has even shown a new openness to participating in a scaled-down event. He has mused aloud to several aides about why the convention can’t simply be held in a hotel ballroom in Florida, given all of the health concerns and the fact that Florida is further along in reopening portions of the state.

But with expensive contracts signed and money raised, the event is unlikely to move from Charlotte — unless the Democratic mayor and governor there say it can’t be held.

McDaniel claims that Republicans cannot change the rules governing convention procedures until the convention actually begins, which is a questionable assertion. But she does acknowledge that a lot of the details could change in terms of the format and timing of events. It also sounds like Republicans from Trump on down are prepared to blame any change of plans on North Carolina governor Roy Cooper and Charlotte mayor Vi Lyles:

“I’m a traditionalist, but we’ll have to see, like everything else, but I think we’ll be in good shape by that time,” Mr. Trump told an interviewer with The Washington Examiner during a visit to Pennsylvania last week. “We have a great state, North Carolina, that’s been very, very good.”

But the president added: “Although, it’s got a Democrat governor, so we have to be a little bit careful. It’s got a Democrat governor, so we have to be a little bit careful with that, because they’re playing politics. They’re playing politics, as you know, by delaying the openings.”

No matter how much plans change, the one thing we know for sure is that the convention will be personally stage-managed by the president to reflect his power and glory, to an extent he was denied in 2016 by his tenuous grasp on the GOP. This determination may nicely mesh with Trump’s increased restlessness as the pandemic drags on. As Politico reported this week, POTUS is really missing his megarallies, and wants them to resume ASAP:

The Trump campaign has an order from the president: Find a way to get him back on the road and into megarallies to re-energize his base.

In recent meetings with top campaign officials and White House aides, Trump has questioned why he’s avoiding campaign events if it‘s safe for him to travel in his official capacity. 

Trump’s official travel, it seems, is too virus-y, and insufficiently upbeat:

The president’s 2020 team is also keeping a close eye on regional reopenings, where modified campaign activities could soon be permitted, according to three people involved with the discussions. Some White House allies have encouraged the campaign to prioritize its plan for restarting rallies, worried that the optics and purpose of Trump’s official travel — during which the president has sent mixed messages about his administration’s response to the pandemic while surrounded by aides in face masks — is too morbid and lacks the showmanship his core base adores.

So you get the sense there’s a feedback loop going on that pushes Team Trump to adjust its coronavirus messaging to stress business reopenings, which in turn makes “normal” campaign activities more feasible, during which Trump and his surrogates can bellow ever more loudly about American returning to greatness. POTUS is already sending the appropriate signals:

Trump’s idea of “normalization” involves mobs of MAGA folk cheering as he rants and boasts, so one way or the other, in Charlotte or in a battleground state near you, we’re likely to see and hear more of that as the summer arrives and November approaches.

Coronavirus May Derail the Republican Convention After All