Mullet convention on: RNC commits to Jacksonsville for party time

It’s official — the Republican National Convention will do business up front in North Carolina while partying back in Florida. The RNC confirmed last night what the Washington Post had reported based on leaks a day earlier, which is that they will stage the first multi-city national convention. After a brief period of research, the GOP chose Jacksonville as the site for its major rallies and speeches, leaving the party business to be conducted in Charlotte for contractual purposes.

For the moment, the biggest hurdle will be the logistics. It takes a couple of years to plan out a convention, and now the GOP only has a couple of months to start from scratch in Florida:

The Republican National Committee announced Thursday that President Trump’s renomination speech and other convention festivities will move to Jacksonville, Fla., from Charlotte, after the original site refused to go along with Trump’s demands for a crowded large-scale event amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Washington Post first reported Tuesday night that the RNC has tentatively decided on Jacksonville for the event. Thursday’s official announcement caps off an extraordinary search for a last-minute convention site after Trump tweeted on Memorial Day that he wanted to move the convention to a city that would allow him speak in a fully filled arena. The RNC also indicated it did not want to require masks for Trump’s speech.

Some lower-profile events will remain in Charlotte because of signed contracts requiring some activities there. The RNC voted Wednesday night to radically pare down the official business of the convention, clearing the way to move the parties and ceremonial aspects of the convention to another place.

The change means that the GOP will have roughly 70 days to plan a series of events that typically take two years to work through. Political conventions, once a secretive process for elites to select their party’s nominee, are now largely for show. But they do serve purposes: kicking off the final leg of the presidential races, offering a high-profile opportunity for the candidates to sell a vision for the country and delivering a platform for the next generation of political stars in each party.

That’s a lot of work to pull together at the last minute; just the travel arrangements alone will be daunting. The COVID-19 pandemic might make that a little easier, however, since airlines and hotels are at low capacity right now and there will be little or no competition for those resources. That would have likely been true in Charlotte as well, but it’s one reason why the RNC could make this call at the last minute.

Politically speaking, this also benefits the RNC, especially if they can pull it off without starting a spike in COVID-19. North Carolina’s Democratic governor Roy Cooper will come out of this looking foolish, while the convention’s most public events will redound to the benefit of Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis, who has already been vindicated on COVID-19 policies this spring. Both Florida and North Carolina are swing states, but Florida is more crucial. If conventions have any impact on voting in their host state — which they probably don’t, but everyone calculates for that anyway — Florida is a slightly more important hold for Donald Trump.

However, the rush to find a new venue might have opened up another can of worms. It didn’t take long for the New York Times to dig up an uncomfortable anniversary in Jacksonville on the same day Trump would deliver his acceptance speech:

It’s official: President Trump will deliver his Aug. 27 convention speech in Jacksonville, Fla., inside an arena that holds 15,000 people, after his demands for an event without social distancing rules led to a rift with Democratic leaders in North Carolina, where the Republican convention was originally planned. …

The event for Mr. Trump in Jacksonville, not in Charlotte, N.C., as planned, coincides with one of the darkest days in the city’s history. The president will address his supporters on the 60th anniversary of “Ax Handle Saturday,” when a white mob organized by the Ku Klux Klan attacked mostly black civil rights protesters sitting at the city’s whites-only lunch counters. The attackers hid ax handles in the brush at Hemming Park, said Alan Bliss, the executive director of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

The city’s white mayor at the time, Haydon Burns, suppressed news about the beatings, Dr. Bliss said, and it was not until 2001 that the day was commemorated with a marker, paid for by the historical society, at the park. The current mayor, Lenny Curry, a Republican, removed a bronze Confederate soldier statue from the same park this week.

It was not clear that the historical resonance of the date for the city, which is about 30 percent African-American, was known to Republican officials before its selection.

D’oh! That’s the kind of vetting that one should do before choosing venues and dates, especially in the middle of social unrest over policing and racism. If the NYT could find this out within hours of the announcement, the RNC should have figured it out beforehand. Why wouldn’t the Republican Party of Florida, one of the RNC’s constituent orgs, have raised that red flag when discussing Jacksonville?

There are ways to deal with that, but it won’t be easy. The GOP could include a commemoration of the anniversary in the program, highlighting the courage of the lunch-counter crusade and the need for better understanding and reconciliation. It might end up being nothing more than a minor headache, but it’s a headache they could have avoided by choosing another city in Florida.

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