WASHINGTON – After months of insisting that the Republican National Convention go off as scheduled despite the pandemic, President Donald Trump is slowly coming to accept that the August event will not be the four-night infomercial for his re-election that he was anticipating.
After a venue change, spiking virus cases and a sharp recession, Trump aides and allies are increasingly questioning whether it’s worth the trouble, and some are advocating that the convention be scrapped altogether. Conventions are meant to lay out a candidate’s vision for the coming four years, not spark months of intrigue over the health and safety of attendees, they have argued.
Ultimately, the decision on whether to move forward will be Trump’s alone.
Already the 2020 event has seen a location change — to more Trump-friendly territory in Jacksonville, Fla., from Charlotte, N.C. — and it has been drastically reduced in scope. For technical reasons, the convention will be unable to formally adopt a new party platform. And what is normally a highlight of the convention — the roll call of the states to renominate the president — is set to be conducted through proxy votes in the original host city.
Still, Trump and his aides had pinned their hopes on creating the pageantry of a formal acceptance speech in Jacksonville, envisioning an arena packed with supporters, without face masks. Outwardly, the White House and the RNC have said they’re full-steam ahead with the revised plan.
“We’re still moving forward with Jacksonville,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said last week. “It’ll be a safe event. It will be a good event.”
But privately, concerns are mounting, and plans are being drawn up to further scale back the event or even shift it to entirely virtual. Officials who weeks ago had looked for the convention to be a celebration of the nation’s vanquishing of the virus now see it as a potent symbol of the pandemic’s persistence.
“There’s a lot of people that want to do it. They want to be enthusiastic. But we can do that and we can do it safely,” Donald Trump Jr. said. He told Fox News that “it’s going to be an awesome event.”
Jacksonville, whose mayor is a former Florida Republican Party chairman, issued a public mask order two weeks ago as virus cases in the area surged. That mandate is unlikely to be lifted before the convention.
Organizers now plan to provide COVID-19 testing to all attendees daily, conduct frequent temperature checks and offer face coverings. Even so, Trump aides and allies fear that the entire spectacle will be overshadowed by attendee concerns and already heightened media scrutiny on the potential for the convention to be a “super-spreading” event.