Last week, DNC chair Tom Perez claimed the party would plow “full speed ahead” to the convention in Milwaukee this summer. Grumblings had already emerged, however, that Democrats needed to start thinking about “contingencies” in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing. With the epidemiological community emphasizing the need to keep vigilant for months — even long after the shelter-in-place orders have been lifted — planning a big gathering of thousands of people into a small arena in mid-summer seems more and more risky.
Or, as Brian Williams put it to Joe Biden last night on MSNBC’s 11th Hour, “Can you really envision every prominent Democrat in this country from all 50 states inside a hot arena 104 days from now?” Er, no, Biden replied:
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Tuesday he wouldn’t be surprised if the Democratic National Convention is rescheduled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
When asked by MSNBC’s Brian Williams if he could imagine the nation’s top Democrats all gathered together in one arena 104 days from now, Biden said it was difficult to do so.
“It’s hard to envision that,” Biden said. “We ought to be able — we were able to do it in the middle of the Civil War all the way through to World War II — have Democratic and Republican conventions and primaries and elections and still have public safety. And we’re able to do both. But the fact is it may have to be different.”
Biden has repeatedly rebuffed proposals to delay or reschedule the general election due to the virus, even as numerous states have pushed off their primaries to encourage social distancing. More than 32 states and territories have issued stay-at-home orders in the United States to curb the spread of the virus.
It’s a bit difficult to understand why Biden would be reluctant to cancel the convention. Not only does the pandemic more or less dictate that decision, it gives the DNC a perfect opportunity to keep Bernie Sanders’ fractious supporters from turning Milwaukee 2020 into Chicago 1968. What’s the alternative — sticking all of the Democrats’ top candidates for national office and all of their local activists into a COVID-19 hothouse for four days, threatening the spread of a disease that might derail them for significant parts of the general election, or worse? Come on, man.
With that in mind, why the reluctance? They’re worried that Republicans might be able to hold their convention at the end of August even if Democrats cancel theirs in mid-July:
One problem for Democrats is that the nation’s battle with coronavirus — and Trump’s position at the center of it — may go on for months. The party’s marquee political event, the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for July, is the subject of contingency planning in case the coronavirus still precludes large crowds from gathering. DNC officials said last week that planning is moving forward for the Milwaukee event. But many Democrats are doubtful — and fearful of a worst-case scenario in which the pandemic upends the Democratic convention, but not the Republican gathering the following month.
“It matters for this reason,” said Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California. “That Thursday night speech by our nominee could be seen by 50 to 60 million Americans, most of them who haven’t paid a minute of attention to the primary. That’s the conversation that takes us to winning.”
He said, “If we have to cancel and Trump has a convention with 40,000 people screaming and yelling … that’s an advantage to Trump, because nobody saw us except some text they got, and then they watched Trump.”
Color me skeptical about that risk. Trump loves his rallies, but even he might balk at stepping into a similar COVID-19 hothouse before a vaccine is ready. Trump’s a well-known germophobe anyway, and he’s probably going to make the same calculation Williams does here. It’s one thing to reopen American with some social distancing, but quite another to pack 40,000 people into a venue for four days and have them “screaming and yelling” around each other. All it would take is one asymptomatic carrier in the arena on Day One, and by Day 4, we’d have another explosion of coronavirus cases.
Besides, Trump doesn’t need the convention. All he needs is his daily press briefing on the coronavirus. The only people who really need the convention are Democrats as a narrative changer.
Either way, the massive risk from conventions of any sort is why Dr. Robert Redfield made it clear yesterday that this is a two-year fight against the coronavirus. It’s why Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx emphasized yesterday that the need for social distancing would continue for the foreseeable future. It’s not just hard to envision a Democratic convention in that scenario — it’s hard to envision any kind of convention in 2020 at all, Republican, Democrat, or the National Toolmakers Association. It’s not happening, and the sooner both parties start working on their “contingencies,” the better off they both will be.