JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Donald Trump on Thursday scrapped plans for a four-night Republican National Convention celebration in Jacksonville that had been set to draw more than 10,000 people to a pandemic hot spot to mark his renomination.
News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney called it the right decision given the unprecedented nature of 2020.
“Some people may view this as a missed opportunity. I think a large number will view this as we dodged a bullet, and I think there will be a sigh of relief,” Mullaney said.
The president pointed to the increase in reported coronavirus cases in Florida and talked about the timing. He also pointed to safety, something that resonates with a former Jacksonville sheriff -- Rep. John Rutherford, R-Florida, a member of the RNC Host Committee.
“It’s truly a disappointment. You know, Northeast Florida was ready to show their magnificent support for President Trump, but, you know, as he’s always done, it puts America first,” Rutherford said.
Critics of the president and of hosting the convention in Jacksonville are calling the decision overdue. Daniel Henry is the chairman of the Duval Democrats.
“Well it was almost as if he was viewing into the press release that we had over a month ago, where we stated the same concerns,” Henry said. “From the very beginning, we said that COVID-19 was going to be a huge risk for the city of Jacksonville to deal with, with the RNC coming to Jacksonville, that the security concerns with protesters and with unrest would be a major concern for us.”
He continued, “Now that this convention is no longer coming to Jacksonville, we finally can breathe a sigh of relief and people can have a little bit of breathing room.”
The concerns weighed on Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, and he made it known Monday afternoon.
“I think the president made a better decision based on public safety, and I obviously always appreciate that,” Rutherford said. “So, we will find other ways to show that Northeast Florida is solidly behind this president.”
Part of Williams’ concerns came from the lack of additional resources and that no money had come in to handle his requests. The original host city, Charlotte, had been able to spend Republican Party money over the past 18 months planning for the event. Mullaney says that might have played a role in the canceling as well.
“Raising money was going to be difficult. It was going to be very challenging given what was spent in Charlotte. The shortness of time was another factor, spreading this out, among other events became difficult,” Mullaney said. “When you put the whole package together, it simply became too much to move forward.”
Mullaney also joined us Friday on The Morning Show to talk about the sudden about face:
The RNC had raised over $35 million in contributions earmarked for the convention since 2017, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosures by The Associated Press. The RNC’s convention committee had spent $9.5 million through June. But that doesn’t take into account the spending of the local host committee, which pledged to raise $70 million.
Trump said he did not cancel the convention events at the request of local officials, but the Jacksonville City Council was set to meet Friday to discuss safety concerns around the gathering.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former chair of the Florida Republican Party, said he appreciated Trump “putting health and public safety first.”
“I know this was a difficult decision and just demonstrates and reaffirms once again his commitment to Jacksonville, the state of Florida and the people of the United States of America,” he said. “I’m grateful for him and his leadership, and this was the right way to move forward.”
Duval County Republican Party Chairman Dean Black was disappointed but proud of the decision.
“We have said all along that Republican leaders would put the safety and security of our citizens above all else,” Black said “While this was not the outcome we were hoping for, we know that President Trump made this decision with the knowledge that he was doing what is best for people of Jacksonville. The thousands upon thousands of Republicans who volunteered for the convention will now enthusiastically turn to the task of campaigning to re-elect President Trump!”
The Florida Democratic Party gave Trump backhanded credit for his action.
“I’m glad Donald Trump took his head out of the sand long enough to realize what a predictable, preventable disaster he was about to inflict on the city of Jacksonville,” state Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement. “His ego-driven political stunt has wasted precious time and resources during a pandemic, and Floridians will remember his reckless leadership in November.”
Joe Gruters, current chair of the Florida Republican Party and a state senator from Sarasota, called it a “selfless move.”
“Having our home-state candidate was going to be a really big deal for Florida, but listen, he had it right,” Gruters said. “At the end of the day, it’s about safety.”
The News Service of Florida and The Associated Press contributed to this report.