After months of being adamant that his campaign will be business as usual, President Trump on Thursday canceled the Florida component of his party’s nominating convention because of the state’s catastrophic coronavirus outbreak, backpedaling on an event that Republicans had billed as a “great celebration.”
According to the New York Post, the Republican National Convention will now instead be mostly virtual and its few in-person aspects are to take place in Charlotte, N.C., where it was originally slated to happen, Trump said in a briefing from the White House.
“I think setting the example is very important,” Trump said. “It’s hard for us to say we are going to have a lot of people packed in a room, and then other people shouldn’t have to do it.”
He added: “l’ll still do a convention speech in a different form, but we won’t do a big crowded convention per se.”
The GOP convention is set to take place between Aug. 24-27.
The cancellation marks an extraordinary flip-flop for a president who moved the RNC from Charlotte after clashing with North Carolina’s Democratic leaders because they didn’t want to commit to hosting a full-scale convention crammed with maskless supporters amid the ongoing pandemic.
In explaining his decision to move the event to Jacksonville, Trump tweeted on June 2: “N.C. Governor Roy Cooper and his representatives refuse to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Arena — spend millions of dollars, have everybody arrive.”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel backed up Trump at the time and said she looked forward “to bringing this great celebration and economic boon to the Sunshine State in just a few short months.”
But Trump, who drastically shifted his tone on the coronavirus pandemic earlier this week, noted in Thursday’s briefing that Jacksonville has become a coronavirus “hot spot.”
“It’s just not right with what’s happened recently, the flareup in Florida, to have a big convention, it’s not the right time,” Trump told reporters. “For me, I have to protect the American people.”
Democrats announced weeks ago that they would not be holding a traditional convention in Wisconsin, and that Joe Biden would instead accept his party’s nomination during a mostly virtual event.
Republican donors have spent millions of dollars on convention preparations in both Charlotte and Jacksonville, a significant chunk of which will now go to waste.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, was relieved, nonetheless.
“We appreciate President Donald Trump considering our public health and safety concerns in making this incredibly difficult decision,” Curry said in a joint statement with the city’s sheriff. “As always, in Jacksonville, public safety is our number one priority.”
Florida has emerged as one of the worst hot spots in the U.S. as the virus resurges across Southern and Midwestern states that rushed to reopen their economies.
Many of the states that are now under siege by the virus were egged on by Trump to rapidly get back to normal, even as the U.S. coronavirus death toll soared above 140,000.
However, starting Tuesday, Trump has embraced a different approach and is urging Americans to wear masks, socially distance and get tested as much as possible. The shift in tone came after polling showed voters of all political stripes disagreed with Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
Pivoting away from the convention cancellation, Trump still made clear Thursday that he wants U.S. schools to reopen across the board this fall.
He said he’s asking Congress to provide increased funding for schools to develop reopening plans, even as many educators contend that students will likely have to continue with some remote learning through the fall for safety reasons.
“Every district should be actively making preparations to open,” Trump said.