JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five weeks before President Donald Trump would have delivered his acceptance speech for a second term in Jacksonville, he opened a Thursday afternoon coronavirus briefing saying that the timing wasn’t right to hold a big political convention.
Despite being told by his staff that planning for the Republican National Convention was going well and they were confident that they could pull it off safely, Trump said pulled the plug on the event.
“There’s nothing more important than keeping the American people safe,” Trump said. “I want to thank the Jacksonville community and all of the other political representatives. They were there for us 100%.”
Joint statement from Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams: pic.twitter.com/4E55XeOos3— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) July 23, 2020
Citing this “flare-up” of the coronavirus in Florida, Trump said putting a bunch of people in a room would send the wrong message.
“There’s nothing more crowded than a convention,” Trump said. “I think we’re setting an example by doing it.”
A month ago, Florida was averaging 33 deaths a day before the daily totals began creeping up and then spiking dramatically -- averaging over 100 deaths each day for the past two weeks.
Trump moved parts of the GOP convention to Jacksonville last month amid a dispute with North Carolina’s Democratic leaders over holding an event indoors with maskless supporters. But those plans were steadily scaled back as virus cases spiked in Florida and much of the country over the last month.
“My political team came to me and laid out our plans for the convention in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s a place I love. I love that state. The drawings look absolutely beautiful. I never thought we could have something look so good so fast,” Trump said. Everything was going well. Thousand of people wanting to be there. ... The pageantry, the signs, the excitement was really, really top of the line.”
A small subset of GOP delegates will still gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, to formally renominate Trump on Aug. 24. Trump said he would deliver an acceptance speech in an alternate form.
This bombshell announcement comes only 32 days before the event was to convene came as a surprise to his local supporters and a relief to many in the community, including Sheriff Mike Williams. On Monday, Williams said he didn’t have the resources needed to keep residents safe from both the spread of coronavirus by thousands of visitors from around the country and potential protests that would be attracted to the event.
The RNC had already scaled back the event was finalizing plans to hold the largest events -- Trump’s acceptance speech -- at an outdoor venue to minimize the danger of spreading the virus. There was growing pressure to scrap it altogether as COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to mount in the city and the state.
A lawsuit asking the courts to require the RNC and the Trump Campaign to “present a comprehensive plan to avoid or minimize the nuisance during the Republic National Convention and require accountability measures to assure it is implemented” was due to be heard by a judge next week.
A special Jacksonville City Council meeting was set for Friday to consider legislation for overlay and security zones to accommodate the RNC and discuss the $33 million grant the U.S. Department of Justice was to make to the city to help with costs.
More than 10,000 people were expected in Jacksonville — already a fraction of the number that would typically attend a nominating convention. Only 336 delegates will be allowed to participate in Charlotte under extraordinary procedures approved last month by the Republican National Committee. The balance of the more than 2,500 delegates will vote by proxy.
Cory Burkarth, a spokesman for the city of Charlotte, said Thursday, “We have an agreement in place with the Republican National Committee to host a substantially scaled down business meeting and that is what we are planning to do.”