WASHINGTON — Just six weeks away from the start of President Donald Trump’s nominating convention in Jacksonville, a coronavirus flare-up in Florida is complicating planning and scaring off potential attendees.
“There’s no chance of this convention happening,” said one informal White House adviser on condition of anonymity. “By this time before a convention, people are lining up parties. There’s none of that. Zero. ... It’s just losing momentum.”
Typically, by this point in the process, delegates, party activists and elected officials have long been assigned hotels and have a set schedule of events. According to multiple GOP consultants and activists across the country, neither of those things has yet happened.
“I’ve talked to a few of my candidates who say they are not planning to go because they’ve got campaigns to win, and there aren’t any swing voters at the convention,” said one Republican consultant based in the Midwest who also requested anonymity. “I think that will be a pretty common response with candidates and elected officials. I do think activists and delegates will attend.”
The Florida Republican Party has not even released a slate of delegates who will be attending, apparently because they cannot get firm commitments, one Florida-based consultant said.
A second White House adviser, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said he expects some 15,000 attendees to end up coming to celebrate Trump’s nomination for a second term, while fundraising has now reached $20 million in commitments. “The goal is to try to get to $30 million,” he said. “It’s not easy. People don’t want to give twice.”
A fundraising solicitation for the convention obtained by HuffPost shows donation levels as high as $1,161,200 per couple, the “Presidential Trust” level, down to the “The President’s Club,” which requires a minimum $1,000. Donors are promised daytime activities on Amelia Island, a resort town some 40 miles northeast of Jacksonville, as well as “hospitality” throughout the Aug. 24-27 period.
Normally, a host city has two years to plan for a major party convention. But Jacksonville has barely had two months after Trump angrily pulled the event from Charlotte, North Carolina, because the state’s Democratic governor would not guarantee Trump would be allowed to fill the basketball arena there to capacity to give him the packed house he wants.
Back in early June, when Jacksonville agreed to host the event, Florida was in the process of relaxing coronavirus restrictions, thanks to a Trump-friendly governor, Ron DeSantis.
But in recent weeks, the state has experienced an explosion of new coronavirus cases — as many as 15,000 per day — with hospitalizations and deaths also increasing.
The difficulty of avoiding the disease, particularly given the Trump-inspired ethos in the Republican Party of shunning masks, became apparent over the weekend. Vice President Mike Pence attended a pre-convention event in Jacksonville, speaking and posing for photos in a small room with low ceilings, and few of those pictured wore face coverings. Some of those present later attended an event for state Republicans, and a lobbyist who attended that function on Monday tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Florida Politics website.
Pence’s office did not respond to HuffPost queries.
Trump himself appeared to acknowledge on Monday that the renewed outbreak in Florida is problematic for his convention. “Well, we’re going to see. It built up a little bit but we’re going to do something that will be great,” he said.
Oh, my God. Jacksonville? Outdoors? In August? Florida-based Republican consultant
On Tuesday, planners appeared to settle on moving the events from the minor-league hockey arena downtown to either a minor league baseball stadium or the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium. While an outdoor venue would reduce the danger of spreading the virus, it brings a new set of problems.
“Oh, my God. Jacksonville? Outdoors? In August?” laughed the Florida-based Republican consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity and describing the extreme heat and near-daily thunderstorms.
If the host committee decides to go with the Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field, that will present Trump with a visual of a 70,000-seat stadium hosting a gathering of at most 15,000 – a far cry from the 80,000 who attended former President Barack Obama’s 2008 convention speech at Mile High Stadium in Denver.
One solution would be to cover the upper decks with tarps to hide empty seats, the consultant said. “Jacksonville is used to not having a full football stadium,” he said, referring to the many years that the Jaguars’ caliber of play has failed to draw large crowds.
But one of the White House advisers said a more likely option is to use the Jaguars’ adjacent covered-on-top but open at the ends practice field, which is also used for concerts. He agreed that the weather would not be ideal. “It’s going to be hotter than hell.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.