Trump Threatens To Relocate The Republican National Convention

May 26, 2020
Originally published on May 26, 2020 8:19 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump wants an arena full of excited Republicans in Charlotte this summer for the party's national convention. He's picking a fight over those plans with North Carolina's Democratic governor. And Trump has threatened to take the convention elsewhere, setting off a scramble. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: As recently as Friday, GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was talking about working with local officials over the next month to figure out what kind of event could be held in Charlotte. She was interviewed by the news site The 19th.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONNA MCDANIEL: We've hired a safety expert, so we're now working to make sure that we are putting contingencies together that we can to put the safety of our conventiongoers first and foremost. But a lot of it's going to frankly come down to guidance from the governor and the mayor.

KEITH: Then came the president's tweets, and the tone changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

MCDANIEL: We want to have it in North Carolina. The president loves North Carolina. It's just the governor, and he's got to work with us.

KEITH: This morning on "Fox & Friends," McDaniel added a political dig.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

MCDANIEL: But this governor is up for reelection. He hasn't given us the assurances we need. We need to be able to move forward in a concrete way.

KEITH: For his part, Cooper said the state is guided by public health and nothing else. And they're waiting on a plan for the Republican Party for how they would safely hold a convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROY COOPER: I will say that it's OK for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be.

KEITH: Vice President Pence said on Monday they could soon look to states that were further along in their reopening, like Texas, Florida or Georgia. Governor Brian Kemp tweeted at the president that Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention. Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, said his state would also love to have the convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: We obviously have a number of areas in our state that could do it. Obviously, Miami could do it. Orlando could do it. Tampa could do it. Jacksonville could do it. You may even have some other places that could do it.

KEITH: But one of those cities, at least, isn't jumping at the chance. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a Democrat, tells NPR they're following the guidelines put out by the CDC. And at the moment, a big in-person convention is hard to imagine.

DAN GELBER: I don't know how you commit today to doing something in two months where you don't know what the situation is going to be and you don't know whether or not you're going to need to have proper social distancing with masks and all the other accoutrements that we've been told we have to follow.

KEITH: Atlanta's mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, said in a statement her city's CDC-guided plan for reopening doesn't contemplate hosting a large gathering in August. Meanwhile, Jacksonville, Fla., Republican mayor sent out a multi-tweet pitch for his city. For President Trump, who is constantly thinking like a TV producer, a convention is the ultimate showcase. In 2016, he walked onstage dramatically backlit for effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. We love you. Thank you very much.

KEITH: And Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump campaign, says the message a convention could send this year in particular is significant.

MARC LOTTER: This is an opportunity for America to see that we are coming back from this coronavirus pandemic. We are open again, and we can get back to work, get back to our lives, celebrate freedom and do so in a way that also respects public health.

KEITH: Plus, he said, with so many pandemic-related cancelations, there are more options than usual. Moving a convention isn't unprecedented, but it's been a long time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Once again, we're going to go to convention hall in Miami Beach, where George Bauer (ph)...

KEITH: It was 1972.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Susan, John Wayne is now talking to the crowd.

KEITH: The convention was originally supposed to be held in San Diego, Calif., but was moved to the opposite coast to avoid a controversy. That was Bill Harris's first Republican convention. He's been to every one since then and was the lead organizer on several of them. He says by now that transportation planning would be done, along with plans for lodging and security in Charlotte. Moving to a new state would be a challenge.

BILL HARRIS: You could do it. But the closer you get to the event itself, I mean, the harder it gets to do.

KEITH: Harris says decisions need to be made soon because the convention is set to kick off in less than three months.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.