“So I told my team it's time to cancel the Jacksonville, Florida, component of the GOP convention,” he said during a Thursday press conference. “I’ll still do a convention speech, in a different form, but we won’t do a big crowded convention, per se. It’s just not the right time for that.”
Local officials in Jacksonville had warned this week that it would be virtually impossible to safely pull off the event, which had only been in planning for weeks, and it was made doubly complicated by rising coronavirus cases in Florida.
But Trump said the move wasn't because of concerns in Florida, but rather because he felt it would not be setting the right example to stage a massive political convention during a pandemic — a sharp shift for a president who only a month ago held a political rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, without social distancing in the crowd.
Trump said the planned party meetings in North Carolina will still take place as part of the convention, before moving to remote events.
“We will be starting in North Carolina for the Monday, as has always been planned, we were never taking that off,” Trump said. “That’s remaining as it is, the delegates are going to get together, that's where they do their nomination. So the delegates are going to North Carolina, they’ll be doing the nomination, and we are going to do some other things, with tele-rallies and online the week that we are discussing, which will be really good.”
Trump said Florida officials had not asked him to cancel, when a reporter asked what changed his mind. “I would just say safety," he said.
The entire 2020 Republican National Convention was originally slated to take place in North Carolina, but the pandemic got in the way of years of planning and fundraising. As Trump continued to push for a normal, crowded convention late this spring, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, demanded that proper protocols be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The president in early June ultimately said he’d seek another place to hold the convention, blaming Cooper for being in "Shelter-In-Place Mode." The RNC settled on having a small portion of the convention in North Carolina and the rest in Florida, including what would have been Trump's acceptance speech and other big televised events.
The president, in canceling those plans Thursday, tried to make the case that his convention could still make for good entertainment.
"We'll have a very nice something, we'll figure it out. It will be online, in some form, maybe it'll be something a little bit different, we have time, we're talking about the end of August. But I think it'll be something that will be exciting, but they can be nothing like having 25,000 people."
When asked whether his decision is an acknowledgment of the severity of the outbreak in Florida, Trump said, “No, I think it’s going to come and go." He pointed to the reversal in cases in the Northeast of the US.
“We have to be vigilant, we have to be careful. And we also have to set an example, I think, setting the example is very important.” Trump said. “It's hard for us to say we're going to have a lot of people packed in a room and then other people shouldn't do it.”
The president was criticized for holding a campaign rally in Tulsa just as Oklahoma was experiencing an uptick in coronavirus cases. People who attended said everyone’s temperature was taken upon entering the 19,000-seat BOK Center convention center, but there was little mask use and Trump downplayed the rising coronavirus cases during his speech.