“Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August,” Trump wrote. “They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied.”
Trump continued: “If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site. This is not something I want to do. Thank you, and I LOVE the people of North Carolina!”
The threat singling out a Democratic governor who has followed federal guidelines echoed Trump’s pressure on other Democratic-led states to reopen as the coronavirus pandemic pushes the economy to the worst crisis since the Great Depression, with approximately 38 million Americans filing for unemployment and scores of businesses shuttering.
Trump, who sees a revived economy as critical to his reelection, also has encouraged protests against Democratic governors who have imposed stay-at-home orders consistent with federal health officials’ recommendations.
Others in the president’s orbit have gone further. In a recent interview, his son, Eric Trump, leveled the baseless claim that the coronavirus will “magically” disappear after the November elections and suggested that his father’s critics were using the pandemic to undermine Trump’s rallies.
Cooper, through aides, declined to strike back forcefully at Trump’s tweets on Monday.
“State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte,” said Dory MacMillan, a spokeswoman for the governor. “North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.”
The governor, as well as North Carolina health officials, have had ongoing conversations with both the party committee and White House aides about the convention, according to a state official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The morning tweet was backed up by the Republican National Committee and Vice President Pence, who in a Fox News interview on Monday mentioned Georgia, Texas and Florida as potential alternate venues for the convention, while stressing that the party wants to stay in Charlotte.
“We love North Carolina,” Pence said. “But having a sense now is absolutely essential because of the immense preparations that are involved.”
An RNC official echoed Trump, saying that Cooper needs to assure the party that the convention can proceed as planned and urged for some answers “sooner rather than later, or we will be forced to consider other options.”
North Carolina offers a political trifecta crucial to the GOP’s chances of holding the presidency, the Senate majority and reclaiming a governorship. Trump won the state by four percentage points in 2016 — the same year Cooper edged out GOP incumbent Pat McCrory. Cooper has gotten high marks for his handling of the pandemic as he seeks a second term, while the state’s junior senator, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), is locked in a tight race with Democrat Cal Cunningham.
Planning for both parties’ nominating conventions — a significant undertaking that attracts thousands from all over the nation — has been upended by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 97,000 Americans and had forced most of the country to shut down businesses and limit mass gatherings.
Democrats have postponed their July convention to August amid concerns about the pandemic. But it remains unclear whether their plans will shift again, or if they will hold an in-person gathering in Milwaukee as they have long intended.
One alternative under consideration, according to Democrats familiar with the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private planning, is holding smaller regional events for delegates and party leaders that would complement a scaled-down main event in Milwaukee. The national party also opened the door this month to remote delegate voting, an indication of movement toward a scaled back or virtual event.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been campaigning from home for the past couple of months, avoiding traditional rallies and town halls in favor of live-streamed events that have sometimes been complicated by technical difficulties. On Monday, Biden laid a wreath at a veterans park near his home, marking the first time in more than two months he has left his neighborhood.
But Republicans have powered through with their plans for an in-person convention, scheduled from Aug. 24 to 27.
In North Carolina, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, and no more than 25 people can congregate outside. Those restrictions run through at least June 26, but the state will only move to the next phase of reopening if the data show it is safe to.
The state reported 1,107 cases of covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, on Saturday, which was the highest one-day figure of cases confirmed by laboratories. Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte said Monday that they were continuing to plan for the convention but that they will release guidance on large gatherings in Charlotte in June.
Despite the party’s preferred plans, officials in other GOP-led states on Monday began offering their states as alternate locations.
The most prominent of them was Florida, the state that Trump made his primary residence late last year and whose governor, Ron DeSantis (R), is a close ally of the president. Pence traveled to Orlando for a joint appearance with DeSantis last week, and Trump is scheduled to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday.
“The Republican Party of Florida would welcome the opportunity to host the Republican National Convention. Florida is committed to ensuring a safe, secure and successful event for President Trump and all attendees,” Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said Monday. “We have America’s number one governor in Ron DeSantis, and Florida is open for business.”
Chris Hartline, spokesman for Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), said the senator and former governor believes “Florida is certainly the best place in the world to host big events” but deferred to decisions made by Trump and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. The Republican Party of Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, wrote on Facebook: “Duval County is ready and open for business, Mr. President! #RNCtoJAX.”
Trump ruled out one potential venue in Florida in a tweet later on Monday, saying he had “zero interest” in moving the convention to Trump National Doral near Miami. He accused the New York Times of reporting that he was interested in holding the event there “in order to stir up trouble,” although the newspaper did not report that.
“Ballroom is not nearly big enough & would like to stay in N.C., whose gov. doesn’t even know if he can let people in?” Trump tweeted.
Still, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez, a Republican, said in a Monday interview that he is open to the idea of moving the convention to his county, where Doral is located. Giménez, who is vying for the House seat held by Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), said he had not received any outreach from the Trump campaign or RNC officials.
“Yeah, we’d be open to it,” he said. “It’s not a slam dunk — depends on how it’s going to be done and all that.”
Officials in other states mentioned by Pence in his Monday interview — Texas and Georgia — also expressed openness to holding the GOP convention there if needed.
“Texas would welcome President Trump and the RNC Convention,” said James Dickey, the chairman for the Republican Party of Texas. “Until then, based on Governor Greg Abbott’s progress in opening Texas, we are on track for our state convention as planned in person in July.”
As of Monday, the office of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) had not had any discussions with the White House nor the Republican National Committee about using the state as an alternate convention venue, according to Candice Broce, the governor’s spokeswoman.
But Kemp tweeted Tuesday morning that Georgia, too, would welcome the GOP convention.
“With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention. We hope you will consider the Peach State, @realdonaldtrump!”
David Shafer, the chairman of the state GOP, said he too, along with Kemp, was extending the invite to Trump and to the national Republican Party. But most major cities in Georgia are run by Democrats, who would have to agree to hold the gathering and coordinate with Republicans in just three months.