Parties go separate ways with summer conventions

Parties go separate ways with summer conventions
© Greg Nash

Democrats are talking about scaling back their presidential convention or taking it completely online, while Republicans say it’s full steam ahead with their plans for an in-person convention in late August.

The coronavirus outbreak has already led Democrats to postpone their planned convention in Milwaukee from mid-July to mid-August, one week before Republicans are scheduled to gather in Charlotte, N.C., to nominate President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Anderson Cooper: Trump's Bubba Wallace tweet was 'racist, just plain and simple' Beats by Dre announces deal with Bubba Wallace, defends him after Trump remarks Overnight Defense: DOD reportedly eyeing Confederate flag ban | House military spending bill blocks wall funding MORE for reelection.

But it’s still far from clear that Democrats will gather in Milwaukee in August.

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Most of the Democrats interviewed by The Hill said they have extreme difficulty envisioning a scenario where they could comfortably make the case that it would be safe to bring thousands of people to a summer convention.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Atlanta mayor says she has tested positive for COVID-19 Trump downplaying sparks new criticism of COVID-19 response MORE said earlier this month the Democrats may have to hold a “virtual convention.”

“I don’t see how thousands of people can congregate anywhere,” a source close to Biden’s campaign said. “That’s just not the world we’re living in.”

One Democrat employed by a union is waiting for guidance on the convention.

“It seems hard to believe that either party will have anything like what we have come to know as the conventions,” the Democrat said. “And I think the planners should be looking at things like this weekend’s NFL draft for ways to make it work in this brave new world of social isolation we live in.”

Joe Solmonese, the CEO for the Democratic National Convention Committee, told The Hill that he’s “confident our team will find a way to deliver a convention in Milwaukee this summer that places our Democratic nominee on the path to victory in November.”

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“As we continue to put plans in place, ensuring public safety will always remain our top priority,” Solmonese said. “Our team will remain in constant communication with the local, state, and federal officials responsible for protecting public health, and will continue to follow their guidance.”

But many Democrats doubt their 2020 convention will look anything like past conventions.

“The real question here is whether this emerging resistance to social distancing in the Republican Party starting with President Trump will be reflected in how their convention looks,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “I trust that Democrats will organize a socially responsible event that is consistent with science, common sense and medical counsel; I can’t say the same for my Republican counterparts given how they have responded to the moment.”

On a conference call with reporters last week, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said the party is moving “full steam ahead” with its plans for an in-person convention.

A spokeswoman for the convention said nothing has changed since then.

“We are full steam ahead and planning for a full-seated convention in August,” the spokeswoman said.

Some Republicans, however, are striking a more cautious tone.

Andrew Romeo, campaign spokesman for Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Cunningham sets Senate fundraising record in North Carolina in challenge to Tillis Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (R-N.C.), who is one of the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection this year, said the senator is “hopeful that the convention can be held in person” in his home state.

“[He] will continue to advocate for a data driven approach when it comes to making decisions on re-opening the economy and resuming large gatherings in North Carolina,” Romeo said.

Jason Miller, the spokesman for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, said he’s certain the Republican National Committee is looking at contingency plans.

“Ultimately, this is going to be a decision about safety,” Miller said. “I’m sure they have a Plan B in their pocket. The president has made clear that his goal is to have the convention, but the party committee folks are pretty smart and I’m sure they have a fallback plan. It all depends on where the safety level is at, and things are shifting very rapidly right now.”

The GOP’s host committee did not respond to a question about a potential backup plan.

The different approaches on the right and left underscore the political and cultural divides between the two parties. GOP governors, particularly in the South, were among the last to issue stay-at-home orders and among the first to begin reopening their economies.

Conservatives in some states have descended on state capitols to protest stay-at-home restrictions, and Trump encouraged the protests on Twitter.

Democratic governors, meanwhile, have in some cases imposed more onerous economic restrictions or clashed with Trump over the federal government’s response to the outbreak.

“What has emerged since the coronavirus hit the United States is a story of two political parties,” said Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo.

He argued that Republicans are “showing their disdain for science and sound medical advice,” an argument congressional Democrats have sought to use against the GOP.

“I expect Democrats will forestall anything that goes against sound medical advice and the TV coverage will show that, while Republicans will have TV coverage showing their disdain for face coverings,” Trujillo said.

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Some Democrats fear their party will be too quick to pull the plug on the convention, potentially giving Trump a four-day-long commercial that sets him up for a strong run to Election Day.

“Convention bumps are real, and if he gets one and we don’t, that’s a problem,” said one Democratic fundraiser.

The fundraiser said he doesn’t think it’s responsible to hold an in-person convention at this point, but that he has a hotel and flight booked for Milwaukee and would go if the convention continues as planned.

But many Democrats don’t believe crowds will be flocking to Milwaukee.

“I think it’s pretty, if not definitely, unlikely to happen at this point, but probably don’t want to officially cancel it since there is some amount of uncertainty in what’s going on in case a miraculous clearing of cases or something,” said Eddie Vale, a Democratic strategist.