Trump scraps big Republican convention in Florida as Covid-19 rages
The decision comes as Trump’s voter support is plunging over his response to the pandemic. Florida posted 173 new deaths from the virus on Thursday, pushing the total to 5,518.Updated: Jul 24, 2020 04:14 IST
President Donald Trump relented Thursday to worries about the coronavirus and canceled his Florida nominating convention, the biggest event of his re-election campaign, as the host state posted record deaths from the pandemic.
“I told my team it’s time to cancel the Jacksonville, Florida component of the GOP convention,” Trump said Thursday at the White House. “We didn’t want to take any chances.”
Trump had insisted for months that he would still hold his four-day extravaganza despite worries that the gathering would become a super-spreader event. The party decided June 11 to move the convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, after Governor Roy Cooper refused to waive social-distancing and other measures to prevent contagion.
But just as preparations for the Florida event got underway, Florida was hit with a surge of infections and now is one of the country’s hardest-hit areas, with a total so far of 389,868 confirmed cases of the virus — about 1.8% of the state’s population — and the number growing by an average of more than 10,000 cases a day. The state posted a record 173 deaths on Thursday.
With support plunging in public opinion polls over his handling of the virus, Trump appeared to start over this week, offering daily news conferences where he encouraged people to wear masks after disdaining them for months, and acknowledging the seriousness of the virus after minimizing its impact.
A Quinnipiac poll of Florida voters released Thursday showed him running 13 points behind Joe Biden.
But Trump, who thrives on the large crowds that attend his campaign rallies, was clearly looking forward to an event that would give his campaign a jolt of enthusiasm.
He tried that with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, his only one so far since the pandemic began in March. The event was only filled to about one-third of capacity and numerous people, including state officials, became ill.
Democrats scaled back their convention earlier this summer, dispensinf with the full pageantry and celebration that normally marks the nomination of a presidential candidate. The Democratic National Committee is allowing delegates to vote remotely and most of the speeches, except for the acceptance speech for Joe Biden, will be livestreamed. Biden will speak in Milwaukee but before a limited audience.
The Republicans, urged on by Trump, had persisted in planning a full convention right up until Trump’s announcement at his daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday.
He offered few details of how the GOP virtual event would work, except to say there would be a “reasonably quick meeting in North Carolina.”
“I’ll still do a convention speech in a different form but we won’t do a big crowded convention per se,”he said.
“We’ll have a very nice something,” he added. “We’ll figure it out.”
Local officials in the Republican-led city applauded the decision.
In a joint statement, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams applauded the move. “We appreciate President Donald Trump considering our public health and safety concerns in making this incredibly difficult decision,” they said on Twitter.
When Trump made the decision to move the convention in early June, Florida’s rate of coronavirus infections was well below the national average. But the rate spiked as beaches and Disney resorts started to reopen, fueled in part by growing infections in younger patients.
As recently as two weeks ago, the White House denied there were any second thoughts about holding a convention. “No, we’re still moving forward with Jacksonville,” said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “It’ll be a safe event. It will be a good event. And it will be up to the RNC as to how those details are hashed out.”