US president Donald Trump’s hopes to salvage a four-night celebration for his reelection campaign have been thwarted by spiking coronavirus cases, with the president announcing that he was calling off the public events of the Republican National Convention scheduled to be held in Florida.
Mr Trump had already moved the convention from North Carolina and dramatically scaled back its programming and attendance in Jacksonville in an effort to keep it on track.
But the nights of “infomercial” programming and parties appeared to be both a health and political risk to Mr Trump and his advisers, who feared that going forward with the event, set to draw more than 10,000 people, would ultimately backfire on the president.
“It’s a different world, and it will be for a little while,” Mr Trump said, explaining his decision during one of his newly resuscitated White House briefings on the coronavirus.
“To have a big convention is not the right time.”
A small subset of Republican delegates will still formally renominate Mr Trump on August 24 in Charlotte, the original host city before Mr Trump moved the ceremonial portions of the Republican convention to Florida last month amid a dispute with North Carolina’s Democratic leaders over holding an event indoors with maskless supporters.
That event is scheduled to last just four hours in the morning.
Mr Trump’s plans for the Florida convention were scaled back almost as quickly as the move was announced, as virus cases spiked in Florida and much of the country over the last month.
Mr Trump said he would deliver an acceptance speech in an alternate form, potentially online.
Mr Trump said thousands of his supporters and delegates wanted to attend the events in Florida, but “I just felt it was wrong” to gather them in a virus hot spot.
Some of them would have faced quarantine requirements when they returned to their home states from the convention.
“We didn’t want to take any chances,” he added. “We have to be vigilant. We have to be careful, and we have to set an example.”
President Trump is focused on leading the American people during this unprecedented crisis, and his number one priority in this decision was the safety of the people of Jacksonville, the convention attendees, and all of the American people.— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) July 23, 2020
Democrats will hold an almost entirely virtual convention August 17-20 in Milwaukee using live broadcasts and online streaming, according to party officials.
Joe Biden plans to accept the presidential nomination in person, but it remains to be seen whether there will be a significant in-person audience.
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to messages on Thursday seeking comment on Mr Trump’s announcement.
In recent weeks, Trump aides and allies have encouraged the president to consider calling off the convention, advising him it was not worth going forward with the event if the focus would be on the pandemic.
Mr Trump acknowledged that consideration, saying, “I could see the media saying, ‘Oh, this is very unsafe’.”
After a three-month hiatus, Mr Trump has stepped back to the forefront of the government’s handling of the virus with regular briefings aiming to stanch an erosion of support in public and private polls that has followed the surge in new virus cases.
Mr Trump said he did not cancel the event at the request of local officials, but the Jacksonville City Council was set to meet on Friday to discuss safety concerns around the convention.
Joint statement from Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams: pic.twitter.com/4E55XeOos3— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) July 23, 2020
Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry, who is a former chair of the Florida Republican Party, said he appreciated Mr Trump “putting health and public safety first”.
“I know this was a difficult decision and just demonstrates and reaffirms once again his commitment to Jacksonville, the state of Florida and the people of the United States of America,” he said.
“I’m grateful for him and his leadership, and this was the right way to move forward.”
Joe Gruters, current chair of the Florida Republican Party and a state senator from Sarasota, called it a “selfless move that he cancelled.”
“Having our home-state candidate was going to be a really big deal for Florida, but listen, he had it right,” Mr Gruters said.
“At the end of the day, it’s about safety.”
More than 10,000 people were expected in Jacksonville — already a fraction of the number that would attend a normal convention.
Only 336 delegates will be allowed to participate in Charlotte under extraordinary procedures approved last month by the Republican National Committee. The balance of the more than 2,500 delegates will vote by proxy.