WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Tuesday that he is cancelling the portion of the Republican National Convention that was set to take place in Jacksonville, Fla., next month. The president broke the news at his daily coronavirus briefing and said he made the decision when his political team presented him with plans for the event.
“I looked at my team and I said the timing for this event is not right. It’s just not right with what’s happened recently, the flareup in Florida, to have a big convention, it’s not the right time,” Trump said. “I have to protect the American people. That’s what I’ve always done.”
The Republican convention is where the party formally nominates its presidential candidates. This year’s edition was originally set to take place in Charlotte, N.C. However, last month, Trump moved the bulk of the event to Jacksonville after North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said it would have to be scaled down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, Florida, which was among the first states to reopen, has seen a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases.
A number of prominent Republican officeholders said they did not plan to attend.
At the briefing, Trump said the portions of the convention that had been scheduled to stay in Charlotte — basically, the formal business sessions — will still go on. That includes the official nomination of candidates for president and vice president, although the number of delegates in attendance will be only 336, many fewer than in previous years. Trump also said he will still make a convention speech.
“We’re going to do some other things with tele rallies and online the week that we’re discussing, which will be really good,” said Trump. “And I’ll still do a convention speech in a different form, but we won’t do a big, crowded convention per se. It’s just not the right time for that.”
The Democratic Party confirmed its plan for a largely virtual convention last month.
Trump’s campaign built up a robust live stream early in the pandemic. But since last month, the president has been trying to resume in-person events, including the large rallies that were a signature of his 2016 campaign. Last month, Trump held his first rally since the pandemic began, in Tulsa, Okla. The event suffered from disappointing attendance and Trump’s frustration contributed to a subsequent shakeup of his campaign team.
Even as he announced the cancellation of the convention, Trump insisted his team could have held a “top of the line” event if he wanted to.
“The drawings looked absolutely beautiful. I never thought we could have something look so good so fast with everything going on,” Trump said. “Everything was going well … thousands of people wanting to be there and I mean, in some cases, desperately be there. … The pageantry, the signs, the excitement were really, really top of the line.”
Trump said officials in Florida did not press him to cancel the convention. He described the decision as motivated by “safety.”
“I just felt it was wrong ... to have people going to what turned out to be a hot spot. ... When we chose it, it was not at all hot,” said Trump.
Trump also noted he wants to serve as an “example,” and suggested that that objective played a role in his decision.
“You know, I could see the media saying, ‘Oh, this is very unsafe.’ I don’t want to be in that position,” Trump said.
Yet even while he vowed the revised convention will be “a very nice something,” Trump also waxed nostalgic about the traditional convention floor.
“There could be nothing like our last convention, unfortunately. That was a great convention in a great place,” Trump said. “We had a great time in Cleveland.”
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