Some lower-profile events will remain in Charlotte because of signed contracts requiring some activities there. The RNC voted Wednesday night to radically pare down the official business of the convention, clearing the way to move the parties and ceremonial aspects of the convention to another place.
The change means that the GOP will have roughly 70 days to plan a series of events that typically take two years to work through. Political conventions, once a secretive process for elites to select their party’s nominee, are now largely for show. But they do serve purposes: kicking off the final leg of the presidential races, offering a high-profile opportunity for the candidates to sell a vision for the country and delivering a platform for the next generation of political stars in each party.
“We are thrilled to celebrate this momentous occasion in the great city of Jacksonville,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “Not only does Florida hold a special place in President Trump’s heart as his home state, but it is crucial in the path for victory in 2020. We look forward to bringing this great celebration and economic boon to the Sunshine State in just a few short months.”
The Democrats also disrupted their convention because of the threat of the novel coronavirus — moving their event from July to August to provide more time for the outbreak to fade. The party expects to hold, at most, a pared-back convention in Milwaukee that is at last partially virtual. Other options include satellite events in key states.
Republicans went in the opposite direction, casting about for a city that would disregard current health guidance and permit thousands of people from all over the country to gather in one place. GOP officials considered Dallas; Savannah, Ga.; Nashville; and Phoenix — but were drawn to Jacksonville largely because the city’s political leadership aligns with Trump.
It was not clear, pending decisions on how the convention would be funded, whether city officials would need to vote on the event’s relocation.
Local and state leaders in Florida applauded the decision Thursday, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, the former Florida Republican chairman, calling it a “huge win” for the city. His comment came in the statement put out by the RNC.
Tommy Hazouri, a Democratic City Council member on the majority-Republican body who will become chairman this summer, told The Post on Wednesday that he had not yet been briefed on the plans for the convention but that he did not expect much resistance, as long as the costs for the event did not come out of city budget and the health concerns were resolved.
“I am not opposed to it,” he said of the Republican convention coming to town. “I hope it works and I trust that the mayor is doing all the necessary homework, meaning his administration.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a Trump ally, said in the RNC statement Thursday that Jacksonville will “showcase Florida’s energy, facilities, entrepreneurship and commitment to bring together the delegates of the Republican Party at a historic time in our nation’s history.”
According to a state filing, the Host Committee in Jacksonville will be led by Visit Jacksonville President Michael Corrigan, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) and Daniel Davis, the president and CEO of the JAX Chamber.
Trump is set to give his speech on Aug. 27 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, a venue in downtown Jacksonville that can accommodate roughly 15,000 people. (It is smaller than the 20,000-person capacity Spectrum Center in Charlotte where Trump was supposed to deliver the speech.)
The timing of the speech raised concerns, because it will be given on the 60th anniversary of Jacksonville’s Ax Handle Saturday, when a mob of about 200 whites attacked black demonstrators who had been trying to desegregate lunch counters in the city via a series of peaceful sit-ins. After about two weeks of protesting, a group of white men, armed with ax handles and baseball bats, beat the protesters.
Trump’s divisiveness remained a concern for others.
“Because of what is happening in this city at this particular time, they should encourage the president not to come here,” NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin told Jacksonville’s News 4 station on Thursday. “With all of the rhetoric that he is going to bring especially as it relates to the protesting that has been going on here, covid-19 is going to be a problem for us.”
Dean Black, the chairman of the Duval County Republican Party replied that the convention “doesn’t have to be divisive.”
“It should be something that draws us together,” he said. “It is a great event, an historic part of our representative government. A moment when we should draw together as one people, regardless of party affiliation.”
The coronavirus remains a health concern in Duval County, which includes Jacksonville. The county on Wednesday reported its highest number of new cases in a month.
RNC and North Carolina officials had been working for months to put on a convention in Charlotte, with state officials balking at ignoring current health restrictions. But all that ended when Trump posted a message on social media saying that he would move the event if he couldn’t secure a commitment to hold a large scale gathering there.
That set off a flurry of correspondence between North Carolina and RNC officials — with Trump placing a call to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in late May asking for a commitment for a big event.
“Since the day I came down the escalator, I’ve never had an empty seat and I find the biggest stadiums,” Trump told Cooper, referencing his own presidential kick off, according to two people familiar with the call. “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s 50 percent empty.”
The two sides appeared to be talking past each other, with Cooper, who is up for reelection this year, demanding that the RNC provide a detailed plan on how the party planned to safely convene events involving thousands of people. The RNC wanted to know what kind of metrics North Carolina officials would use to determine whether their plans could be approved.
On Wednesday night, the RNC’s executive committee unanimously voted that the official business of the convention in Charlotte can be conducted with roughly 300 delegates, far fewer than the roughly 5,000 who participated in past conventions.
The group also determined that delegates do not need to be present to vote to support the renomination of Trump and Vice President Pence. Most of the committees will not meet — including the platform committee. Rather than hashing out new policies for 2020, the RNC will stick with its 2016 platform.
Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.