This is the right call, no doubt made reluctantly but a correct decision nonetheless. I have a post coming up about today’s big Quinnipiac poll of Florida but let’s sneak-preview it with this:
Apart from Republicans, every group on the board there including Trump’s core base of whites without a college degree thinks holding the convention in Jacksonville, with the virus raging, would be a bad idea. If he had ignored that, went ahead with the event, and cases surged locally in the aftermath — even if they couldn’t be traced directly to the convention — the press would have been so toxic that it might have sealed his doom in Florida. It would have been nutty to tempt fate by running a needless risk in a must-win battleground when coronavirus is already a major political liability for him there.
Like I say, stay tuned for that post. In the meantime, here he is at today’s coronavirus briefing:
“We’re going to do some other things with tele-rallies and online the week that we’re discussing which will be really good” — Trump announces that the 2020 RNC that was scheduled to take place in Jacksonville will not be happening pic.twitter.com/gU2U1GE0ka
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 23, 2020
We’ll need to wait for the reporting tomorrow for an idea of which White House faction was the driving force behind this switcheroo, but it’s impossible to believe that it was Trump himself. His desire for an arena full of screaming fans is what drove the move from Charlotte to Jacksonville in the first place, as the governor of North Carolina wouldn’t guarantee that social-distancing rules would be relaxed for the convention. Ever a Florida component was added to the RNC’s schedule, though, the effort has been snakebit. COVID cases in Florida began to take off. GOP donors grumbled that they’d already kicked in for the Charlotte event and didn’t want to pony up again. Poor turnout at Trump’s rally in Tulsa led the RNC to fear no one would show in Jacksonville. The party began looking at outdoor venues to mitigate the risk from the virus, then at limiting attendance. A few days ago the local sheriff announced that he was having trouble finding security for the event and it would take a herculean effort to get it done on such short notice.
If Trump had pressed ahead despite all that, he would have run three risks. There might have been an outbreak of infections among attendees. There might have been few attendees to begin with. Or there might have been a 1968-ish fiasco outside the arena as police struggled to control protesters. The takeaway from Americans watching at home would have been, “He just doesn’t care about people’s safety. He’s too self-absorbed.” That’s exactly the perception Trump’s trying to undo by restarting the daily coronavirus briefings. If you had to distill his message in the clip above to two words, it’d be “safety first,” the opposite of the message he’s spent the past three months preaching in pushing states to reopen for business. It’s the right move — Americans routinely say they prioritize containing the virus over economic growth in polling — but it’s very unlike him.
I don’t know if this decision in isolation will do anything for him in polling but at least he’s on the right track now. A “safety first” message from now until Election Day will only help. What it means for his big initiative to reopen schools remains to be seen.
Exit question: Who spearheaded this idea behind closed doors and convinced him to do it? Kellyanne Conway? Jared?