Five GOP senators stated last week that they would not attend the diluted version of the Republican National Convention in August, citing “the virus situation” (86-year-old Chuck Grassley) or just not being welcome at an event celebrating the president (Mitt Romney). This week, the attrition continues: According to the New York Times, Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Pat Roberts of Kansas are declining their RSVP to a live event held in a state that just broke the record for the most new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day.
“Everybody just assumes no one is going,” said Representative Darin LaHood of Illinois, borrowing the logic of a party host with low self-esteem. LaHood was one of eight House members who told the Times he would not attend — despite being an honorary state co-chairman for the Trump campaign. Even Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Francis Rooney are turning down their invitations, though their southern Florida districts are about a five-hour drive away.
The Times also notes that party figures including Marco Rubio, Liz Cheney, and Trump champion Ron Johnson have not committed to the event. While Diaz-Balart, Rooney, and Blunt did not attend the 2016 convention, Roberts — who is 84 and retiring next year — told the paper that he “didn’t know what was canceled and what was not and whatever.”
That hasn’t been a one-off complaint. With the pandemic escalating in Florida, the expectations and safety procedures have been changing by the week. According to the Washington Post, RNC planners have looked at moving Trump’s acceptance speech and other live events to an outdoor arena, which may cause problems in Jacksonville in the sweltering late days of August.
About a month out, the convention is shaping up to be a disaster — though the president’s impulse to celebrate himself may keep the event on the calendar, rain or community spread or shine. As the Times notes, the risk of travel during a pandemic may result in a “crowd that is far Trumpier than in 2016,” when the party was a little more reluctant to accept its audacious primary winner. And with the campaign reportedly struggling to keep Trump’s rallies going after the mess in Tulsa, an acceptance speech among true believers may be a highlight for the president in his reelection summer, regardless of the coronavirus exposure he might be forcing on his base.