WASHINGTON – After months of insisting that the Republican National Convention proceed as scheduled despite the pandemic, President Donald Trump is slowly coming to terms with the late-August event not being the four-night infomercial for his reelection. that I had anticipated.
After a change of venue, a surge in coronavirus cases and a sharp recession, Trump’s aides and allies are increasingly wondering if it’s worth it, with some arguing that the convention be scrapped entirely. The agreements aim to establish the vision of a candidate for the next four years, not provoke months of intrigue about the health and safety of the attendees, they have argued.
Ultimately, the decision to move on will be up to Trump alone.
Already the 2020 event has seen a change of venue, to a more Trump-friendly territory in Jacksonville, Florida, from Charlotte, North Carolina, and its scope has been dramatically reduced. For technical reasons, the convention may not formally adopt a new party platform. And what is normally a highlight of the convention, states’ roll-call vote to reappoint the president, will take place through proxy votes in the original host city.
Still, Trump and his aides had pinned their hopes on creating the spectacle 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 are in overdrive with the revised plan.
“We are still moving forward with Jacksonville,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said last week. “It will be a safe event. It will be a good event. ”
But privately, concerns are mounting, and plans are in the works to further reduce the event or even make it completely virtual. Officials who weeks ago had sought to make the convention a celebration of the nation’s conquest of the virus now see it as a potent symbol of the pandemic’s persistence.
“There are many people who want to do it. They want to be enthusiastic. But we can do that and we can do it safely, ”Donald Trump Jr. told Fox News Channel’s” Sunday Morning Futures “that” it is going to be an incredible event. “
Jacksonville, whose mayor is a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, issued a public mask order two weeks ago when virus cases in the area increased. That mandate is unlikely to be lifted before the convention. Additionally, Florida has limited facilities statewide to operate at 50% of capacity.
Organizers now plan to provide COVID-19 testing to all attendees on a daily basis, perform frequent temperature checks, and offer facial coverage. Still, Trump’s aides and allies fear the entire show will be overshadowed by attendees’ concerns and that media scrutiny of the potential for the convention to be a “super-extended” event has already increased.
Key decisions about the event, including exactly where or if Trump will appear, should be made in the coming days to allow enough time for the construction of the space.
Increasingly, attendees are pressuring Trump to move his acceptance speech outdoors to minimize the risk of virus transmission. But Trump has expressed reservations about an outdoor venue, believing it would lack the same atmosphere as a laden arena.
Despite the economic downturn, Republican officials insist they will have the necessary financial resources to hold the convention. Vice President Mike Pence flew to Florida on Saturday to organize a fundraiser for the event.
“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, “said RNC spokesman Mike Reed said. “We will continue to coordinate with local leadership in Jacksonville and Florida in the coming weeks.”
The Trump team’s concerns were compounded after the President’s embarrassing return to campaign rallies after a three-month hiatus caused by the virus. The empty seats at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, sparked a shakeup in the Trump campaign and renewed fears that the president would not be able to return to his characteristic campaign events in their traditional way before Election Day in November.
A Saturday rally in New Hampshire that was intended to be the president’s second attempt to return to the campaign trip was suspended Friday, apparently due to weather concerns from Tropical Storm Fay. But attendees acknowledged that they were also concerned with drawing enough crowds to fill Portsmouth’s aircraft hangar.
The challenge in Jacksonville can be more daunting. The administration’s top health officials have objected when asked if the convention could be held safely. Many of the party leaders and donors who attend conventions are older, putting them in a higher risk category for the coronavirus.
Half a dozen Republican senators have already indicated they will not attend the convention. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has expressed reservations.
“I am not going, and I am not going because of the virus situation,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, 86, said in a conference call with Iowa journalists last week.
When asked if he would like to limit the meeting if the state’s coronavirus cases continue to rise, Trump replied that the decision “really depends on the moment.”
“We are always seeing different things,” Trump said during an interview on “Full Court Press on Gray Television with Greta Van Susteren.”
“When we signed a few weeks ago, it looked good,” the president continued. “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. “
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin contributed to this report.