WASHINGTON ― The inability of local officials to assure needed security and relentlessly increasing coronavirus cases in his new home state spurred President Donald Trump to pull the plug on his nominating convention in Florida on Thursday.
It’s the second time Trump has had to cancel what he has wanted to be a full-blown celebration of his nomination for a second term, featuring a packed house of delegates and guests. Trump angrily moved the convention from its original site, Charlotte, North Carolina, in June, because Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper refused to waive social distancing and mask-wearing rules he imposed in his state to control the spread of the virus.
Trump said from the White House on Thursday that under a new plan, all the delegates will now meet in Charlotte and nominate him in late August ― but he offered no details on how that might happen. The plan for the past month has been for just the 163 Republican National Committee members to meet there for a formal business meeting just before the planned gathering in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I don’t know what they’re doing to do, but they’ll figure something out,” said one top informal White House adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While Trump and his allies had been painting an optimistic scenario for the Jacksonville convention, troubles had been festering for weeks beneath the surface.
Although Florida had seemed as if it had the virus under control when Jacksonville agreed to host the event in early June, the number of coronavirus cases started to jump shortly thereafter, as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis bowed to White House pressure to hasten a “re-opening” of the state.
The adviser, referring to the spurt in the state’s cases, said, “Ten thousand cases a day, and they weren’t letting up. That was just wearing folks down.”
Hosting a convention where frequent and rapid testing was being promised to attendees was also going to cause a public relations problem because of the contrast with area residents who are waiting days or weeks to get back their test results, the adviser said.
But the final straw leading to the cancellation came when Jacksonville’s sheriff early this week announced that he could not line up the needed security even a smaller convention would need.
Normally a convention city’s top law enforcement officer can count on help from other nearby cities. But the Democratic mayors of Orlando and Tampa were not willing to send officers, the adviser said. “They’re using the excuse of the virus, but they’re just fucking with Trump,” he said.
Convention planners seemed to have found a work-around for that problem ― a verbal commitment from DeSantis to send as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to provide security ― but the governor failed to send a letter in time for a planned Jacksonville City Council meeting that would discuss and approve that proposal. The city’s mayor postponed the meeting until next week.
On Thursday, Trump decided the downsides of the Jacksonville convention would outweigh the benefits and decided to call it off, the adviser said. “I’m glad he did it,” he added.