Of all the wretched jobs in American politics in this pandemic year, the worst has to be Republican National Convention planner. The quadrennial clambake was originally scheduled for Charlotte, North Carolina, in its entirety, until Donald Trump had a temper tantrum over Governor Roy Cooper’s refusal to make an iron-clad pledge that he would be allowed to hold his acceptance speech in a hall packed with unmasked, cheering MAGA fans. POTUS yanked the key segment of the convention from Charlotte and decided to give it to Jacksonville, Florida, mostly because the mayor and governor there were both Republicans who presumably agreed with him that getting his general-election campaign off to a roaring start was more important than public health.
For contractual reasons, some of the boring but necessary business sessions of the convention were left in Charlotte, which was complicated enough. Then rising COVID-19 cases in Jacksonville began forcing the RNC to discuss moving events outdoors to reduce the risk of a super-spreader event. Those familiar with Jax’s weather in late August shuddered or chuckled at the prospect of Trump delivering his big self-congratulatory speech in a half-empty NFL field or minor-league ballpark on a steamy night, with perhaps a torrential downpour or an electrical storm livening up the proceedings.
As the pandemic intensified in Florida, Republicans frantically tried to downsize attendance at the four planned nights of events in Jacksonville. But even then, local officials were setting off a lot more alarms than their counterparts in Charlotte ever did, as Elliot Hannon reported earlier this week:
[A] little over a month until the convention is set to kick off, Florida is drowning in new cases of the coronavirus, and Jacksonville sheriff Mike Williams said safely hosting the event as constituted is no longer an option. In a briefing with reporters Monday, the Republican sheriff said his office was “past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security that is our obligation” …
“Any plan requires finances and resources. I don’t have what I need to keep our community safe,” Williams said. “I don’t know where we go from here … I just know what I have in front of me isn’t going to work.”
The RNC reacted to this dire news by pooh-poohing the locals’ concerns and comparing the convention to a football game. But behind the scenes, convention planners must have been freaking out.
And so, in a week when the president is reportedly trying to convey the sense that he’s facing reality rather than some fantasy world where COVID-19 is just a bad cold and the economy is roaring back, he dropped this bomb during his coronavirus briefing, as USA Today reported:
President Donald Trump said Thursday he is canceling the Jacksonville portion of the Republican National Convention that had been planned next month because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said. “There’s nothing more important than keeping our people safe.”
Trump said that he would hold a speech of some kind to formally accept his party’s nomination for president. The move is a significant blow to the campaign, which had hoped to use the convention to reset his presidential campaign.
Delegates will formally nominate Trump in Charlotte as one of many obligatory chores. But the big speech that was such a big deal to the president? That’s unclear:
“We will still do a convention speech in a different form, but we won’t do a big crowded convention per se,” Trump said.
[T]he party‘s big events, including Trump’s prime-time nomination speech, which the party decided to move to Jacksonville only last month, will move online, the president suggested …
“We’re going to do some other things with tele-rallies and online the week that we’re discussing, which would be really good. I think we‘re going to do it well,” Trump said, vowing that he would still deliver a speech “in a different form.”
Tele-rallies? It’s unclear what that means other than a televised rally. And no one at this point knows where he will deliver his acceptance speech. Perhaps he can just go to Mar-a-Lago and let his servants whoop it up as he speaks, or maybe he’ll go back to his old home in New York, where pandemic conditions are far better.
The one sure thing is that Trump’s aborted pursuit of an old-school convention, where balloons would drop as he looked out in triumph over a sea of white shining faces, has cost two cities (so far), his party, and his campaign a lot of precious time and money that might have been better deployed in developing a rationale for his reelection.