Pandemic mars Trump’s GOP convention plans
President Trump’s plans for a full-scale GOP convention in Jacksonville, Fla., next month are looking increasingly bleak amid rising numbers of coronavirus cases.
The state of Florida has experienced a significant surge in COVID-19 that shows little sign of slowing, and five GOP senators already have said they do not plan to attend the events in Jacksonville, where Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech formally accepting the Republican presidential nomination.
Republicans describe a convention that is consumed by unknowns following Trump’s decision to shift some festivities from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said plans would have to be scaled back because of the pandemic’s danger.
One Republican operative with knowledge of the discussions said the recent spike in cases in that state has created a tremendous amount of uncertainty.
“It all seems very much up in the air right now,” said a second GOP source with knowledge of the convention plans.
Official convention business is still set to take place in Charlotte, but Trump wants the celebrations to be in Florida.
Cable networks are expected to send a smaller number of journalists to cover the event due to the pandemic, and some Republicans said it would be difficult for convention planners to secure corporate sponsors for the event due to the optics of holding a convention amid the pandemic.
A third Republican acknowledged it may be difficult to raise money for the Jacksonville event after donors contributed tens of millions of dollars toward the one in Charlotte.
“We’re having to start from scratch,” the Republican said.
Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser and CEO of oil drilling company Canary, said there has been “a lot of mixed messaging” around the convention plans.
Older donors who would normally push for key roles are hesitant to attend given the health risks, said Eberhart.
He also said some donors are concerned that the GOP majority in the Senate is at risk because of Trump.
“Trump is so toxic in some of these states that you could have some ticket splitting,” Eberhart said. “I am wanting to go but still mulling the decision and wondering how big it will actually be.”
Trump in June insisted on moving the convention from Charlotte, saying Cooper’s refusal to allow the event to go on as planned had forced the GOP’s hand. Trump, who feeds off large crowds, has also pressed forward with large campaign rallies amid the pandemic despite the risk they pose of spreading the virus.
“It’s tough any time you’re doing something in two months that normally takes years, but it will come together,” the third Republican said. “It’s not easy — no one knows what the virus landscape will look like in August, but we’re being flexible. There is a lot of concern about the virus, and we understand some people are not going to want to go. But I think most folks are going to want to come, and we’ll see that in the next few days as deposits come in for hotel rooms in the area.”
Trump seemed to acknowledge in an interview Tuesday that the coronavirus could ultimately force the party to adjust its plans.
“Now all of a sudden it’s spiking up a little bit, and that’s going to go down. It really depends on the timing. Look, we’re very flexible, we could do a lot of things, but we’re very flexible,” Trump told Greta Van Susteren, host of “Full Court Press.”
Duval County, the home of Jacksonville, reported 348 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the county’s total reported cases to 9,835. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (R), who played a major role in bringing the convention to the city, revealed on Tuesday that he and his family were self-quarantining after he came into contact with an individual who had tested positive for the virus.
The Duval County Republican Party referred The Hill to a statement from last month, in which Chairman Dean Black said the party was “ecstatic” about Jacksonville being chosen for the event.
Florida reported 7,347 new cases on Tuesday, bringing its total to 213,794. The largest share of cases has been centered in Miami-Dade County, where more than 51,000 people have contracted the virus.
Jacksonville in late June instituted a mandatory mask policy requiring residents to wear face coverings at indoor establishments and in public places. It is not clear whether that requirement will be in place at the end of August, when the convention events are scheduled to take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Republican National Committee plans to make COVID-19 testing available to those attending the convention. The Republican operative privy to the planning discussions also said that the event would feature smaller gatherings in place of large parties that usually accompany such events.
“I don’t think you’re going to have a full convention in Jacksonville, just like you’re not going to have a full convention in North Carolina,” the person said.
Florida currently has a rule in place limiting indoor gatherings to 50 percent capacity, which would cap the convention center gathering at 7,500 people.
Curry’s office did not respond to a request for comment about whether the city would enforce the limited capacity rule for the GOP convention.
About 200 Florida-based doctors signed an open letter to Curry’s office in late June asking him to postpone the convention and require that masks be worn. The doctors estimated that the convention would draw 40,000 people to Jacksonville from all over the country, including the press and protesters, which they said would result in “increased hospitalizations, long-term health problems, and deaths.”
The Trump campaign, however, is expressing optimism that the convention will go on and be a success.
“President Trump and Vice President Pence are looking forward to celebrating the incredible success of their first term and their re-nomination by the most united Republican Party in decades,” said spokesman Ken Farnaso.
Brett Samuels and Jordain Carney contributed.
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