At the time, Mecklenburg County, N.C., where Charlotte is located, was seeing an average of 188 new coronavirus cases a day. Duval County, Fla., home of Jacksonville, was seeing only 27. Jacksonville seemed like it had things well in hand; a few weeks prior, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) stood outside the White House to brag about how effective his state had been at controlling the virus’s spread.
But one had to wonder. If Jacksonville wasn’t implementing efforts to contain the virus, didn’t that increase the risk of an outbreak in the city? Wasn’t the safer long-term bet to go with the city that was trying to contain the virus in the moment, with the hope that it would be sufficiently contained by the time of the convention to actually allow for the sort of event Trump sought?
Well, reader, you can guess what happened next.
By June 20, Duval County was seeing an average of 100 cases a day. By June 27, its seven-day average was higher than Mecklenburg’s. On June 29, Jacksonville implemented a mask policy of its own, but the trajectory had already been set.
On every day of this month except July 1, the seven-day average of new cases in Duval County has exceeded 500. The average daily number of new cases in Mecklenburg County has been 320.
As a hard number, that’s quite a reversal. As a function of where each county was when Trump made his announcement, it’s a staggering shift. Cases in Charlotte’s home county are up 62 percent since the announcement. Cases in Jacksonville’s are up more than 1,900 percent.
It’s not only because of how each city approached containment that the cases landed where they are. It’s worth noting, though, that the introduction of the mask mandate in Jacksonville occurred shortly before the number of new cases in the city began growing.
For weeks, as this seemingly inevitable pattern has played out, the Trump campaign has scrambled to figure out what to do. The rash decision to move to a riskier city didn’t pay off, and now officials had to make it work. They floated different ideas such as outdoor events.
In the same period, though, another complication arose. The much-touted rally in Tulsa drew far fewer people than anticipated and, as feared, is believed to have led in a resurgence of new coronavirus cases in the region. New scrutiny was being paid both to Trump’s ability to generate a crowd and his ability to protect the crowd in attendance.
Earlier this week, the sheriff in Jacksonville stated publicly that the uncertainty of the Republican Party’s plans for events in his city meant that he couldn’t guarantee his ability to keep attendees and the community safe. This may not have been the final straw, but it was certainly a straw on the camel’s back.
During a news briefing Thursday, Trump completed the reversal.
“I told my team it’s time to cancel the Jacksonville, Florida, component of the GOP convention,” he said. “We’ll be starting in North Carolina for the Monday, as has always been planned.” There, he said, the delegates would do the formal work of the convention.
“We’re going to do some other things with telerallies and online the week that we’re discussing,” Trump added, “which will be really good. I think we’re going to do it well. And I’ll still do a convention speech in a different form, but we won’t do a big crowded convention per se.”
Buried in the second part of that explanation is another, more subtle reason for the shift out of Jacksonville. It’s that word “telerally,” which The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold and Colby Itkowitz reported on earlier this week.
“President Trump’s private company filed a trademark application last week that suggested that it is starting a new line of business: organizing ‘telerallies’ for political campaigns,” they wrote. “In an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a subsidiary of the Trump Organization sought to trademark the word ‘telerally,’ for use in ‘organizing events in the field of politics and political campaigning.’ ”
The Trump Organization, it seems, has already found a customer. And given that potentially fruitful alternative format, the doomed Jacksonville secondary stage got deep-sixed.