Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the deadly pandemic sweeping his state could help decide whether President Donald Trump will give his acceptance speech next month at the Republican convention before a crowded crowd, or many empty seats.
Florida is currently operating under an executive order that DeSantis has implemented to combat the spread of the virus that requires all major sports centers to operate at a capacity of no more than 50 percent, confirmed Gov. Helen Aguirre Ferre’s spokeswoman.
That includes the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, the 15,000-seat venue where Republicans intend to meet Aug. 24-27 to celebrate the fuss-ridden portion of Trump’s renomination for a second term.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, the city’s popular Republican mayor, recently said they are keeping a close eye on the unfolding crisis to see if it’s safe enough to have a massive gathering like the Republican convention in late August.
Ultimately, however, it is the “governor’s call” on whether it is secure enough to lift the 50 percent mandate, Curry spokeswoman Marjorie Dennis said by email Monday. “The mayor would not have to sign.”
NBC News asked Ferre if DeSantis planned to rescind the order in time for the convention. There was no immediate response.
Florida on Sunday broke its one-day record with 15,299 new cases of coronavirus, dwarfing by 3,000 a daily record previously set in the pandemic by New York State.
Overall, Florida has recorded 282,435 cases and 4,380 deaths, according to an NBC News count. And the total deaths in two weeks increased 90 percent in the previous two weeks. There were 487 deaths from June 15 to 28 and 927 more from July 29 to July 12.
Jacksonville is hosting the convention because Roy Cooper, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, concerned about the Covid-19 spread, would not guarantee Trump a full house at the Charlotte location where the new nomination was supposed to take place. and said that the whole event should be reduced.
At DeSantis, a loyal Trump ally, he offered to help the Republican leader and bring some much-needed tourist dollars to his state by celebrating the most striking portions of Trump’s nomination in Jacksonville.
That was before Florida began breaking records for new coronavirus cases and after the governor extended his executive order directing that large indoor gatherings be kept below 50 percent of capacity.
Now DeSantis is faced with a difficult decision: possibly anger Trump by keeping the mandate in place or face the pullback of Floridians increasingly concerned about the spread of the virus.
“I wouldn’t want to be on that call to Trump,” said Mitch Ceasar, former chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. “Florida is now the epicenter of the virus both domestically and internationally, and I am sad to say as a Florida resident.”
Trump, in a recent interview, said he is willing to be “very flexible.”
“We are always seeing different things,” Trump said on “Full Court Press of Gray Television with Greta Van Susteren.”
“When we signed a few weeks ago, it looked good,” added the president. “And now, all of a sudden, it’s shooting up a little bit. And that will go down. It really depends on the moment. Look, we are very flexible. “
Several Jacksonville residents living near the arena have filed a lawsuit to prevent the Republican National Committee from holding the convention in their neighborhood, calling it a health risk and noting that several people became infected after the Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, because they didn’t. Do not wear masks or practice social distancing.
Curry left open the possibility of asking the RNC to withdraw the Jacksonville convention “if we have” broad community outreach, and the ICUs are full and hospitals cannot handle it. “
Susan McManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida, said moving the convention out of Jacksonville is unlikely because that would be “hitting big Republican donors twice negatively.”
While concerns about the Republican convention becoming a disease incubator are very real, Florida has already lost billions of dollars due to the pandemic, he said. DeSantis has to find a way to keep the event in Florida and ensure that people are safe.
“I think if the Trump people are pragmatic, and that’s a big problem, they have to be aware of the position the governor is in,” he said. “This is the season when tourists come in and spend money, and the state budget has already suffered as a result of the pandemic. Florida is really in a bad place. “
Therefore, the triumphant multi-day extravaganza that the Trump Team envisioned may have to be curtailed, and feature social distancing and wearing masks, McManus said.
DeSantis and Trump “both have strong personalities,” McManus said. “I still believe that we will have to give and receive for this to work. An all-or-nothing solution doesn’t benefit any of them. “
Trump is still hoping to step up the show and deliver an acceptance speech before a crowd he adores at a venue that has hosted sold-out concerts by artists like Rihanna, Garth Brooks, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and others, the Associated Press reported. .
But the script for the 2020 Republican Party convention is already different from previous galas. Key events such as the state roll call to reappoint the president, a highlight of any convention, will be held by proxy vote in Charlotte. And half a dozen prominent Republican senators, at least two of whom expressed concern about Covid-19, have already said they will not attend the convention.
NBC contacted the RNC for details on how the arena would be modernized to allow for social distancing, but received no response.
There has also been a proposal to move the convention to an outside venue like the TIAA Bank Stadium to minimize the risk of transmission.
“This seems highly unlikely due to heat and humidity and the high probability of thunderstorms in North Florida in the summer,” said Aubrey Jewett, associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. “Also, while an outdoor venue is certainly safer in terms of the potential to transmit the virus, it would likely greatly reduce the fever of the event compared to the acoustics of an indoor venue.”
And forget about a totally virtual convention.
“President Trump seems to have little use for the idea of a fully online convention and would provide very little in the way of exciting the base,” said Jewett.
RNC spokesman Mike Reed told AP that they are keeping all their options open, for now.
“The convention is still a month and a half away, so there is time to adjust and make the most appropriate decisions regarding venue options and a series of health precautions that will allow us to have a safe and exciting event for everyone, “Reed said. “We will continue to coordinate with local leadership in Jacksonville and Florida in the coming weeks.”