No one really knows if President Donald Trump was bluffing when he threatened this week to move the Republican National Convention out of Charlotte. It could be another manufactured controversy meant to distract the media during the coronavirus crisis and put heat on a Democratic governor from a swing state, North Carolina.
But let’s suppose Trump is serious. Could another city even take over this event — which requires years of planning and tens of millions of dollars — at the 11th hour?
It would be nearly impossible for another city to pull off a traditional convention under these time constraints, said Ken Jones. There are too many logistical, financial and security hurdles. Jones would know. He was the president and CEO of the 2012 Republican National Convention Host Committee in Tampa. He’s worked on five other conventions.
If Trump insists, or Gov. Roy Cooper says it’s unsafe to pack the Charlotte’s Spectrum Center with 30,000 MAGA men and women during a pandemic, then what?
Under that scenario, Jones said, the GOP and Trump’s campaign might have to reimagine what a convention looks like. And he spitballed an alternative.
Here’s Jones’ Hail Mary: Republican delegates could still meet in Charlotte for the traditional convention business. They gavel in delegates, pledge their votes to a nominee, vote on a party platform — all the stuff that’s legally required. No need for an arena, just a hotel ballroom.
But everything else — the speeches, the hype videos, the balloon drop — could take place outside of Charlotte in strategically picked cities in battleground states. Imagine a night in Jacksonville headlined by First Lady Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, followed by a full schedule of events in Phoenix led by Eric and Don Jr. One night could feature Vice President Mike Pence in Cleveland. Close it out with Trump himself from Atlanta or Las Vegas or wherever a governor will let them.
The convention would essentially take the form of supersized Trump rallies, for which his campaign already has a blueprint. Last year’s re-election kickoff at the Amway Arena in Orlando was an all-day event, full of pomp and flair and special programming outside the arena, streamed live on giant screens and for those watching from afar. The campaign could similarly simulcast convention-related festivities to other gatherings across the country.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Republican leaders appear eager to fête Trump in his new home state. This could be a way to make that happen, Jones said.
The traditional playbook for conventions is so stale that every four years there’s debate over whether to scale them back — or get rid of them altogether. The coronavirus may be an opportunity to reinvent this relic from an era when parties chose candidates in smoke filled rooms. Democrats may hold an all-digital convention in lieu of gathering in Milwaukee. Republicans could go an entirely different route.
“If you have to imagine what a convention looks like in the face of an obstinate governor, then what do you do?” Jones said. “I think you have to start thinking about ways to fulfill your legal obligations as a party, but then, for all the rest of it, you can be creative and use various geographies to highlight your candidate.”
This is where it’s worth noting that Jones is an adviser to the 2020 convention host committee. Although he wouldn’t say if he has shared this idea with top party brass, he has been a very busy man ever since Trump first went off on Gov. Cooper.
Perhaps Republicans and Cooper will come to terms on a solution that works for everyone. Republicans gave Cooper until June 3 to agree to safety measures that would allow Trump to hold the convention he wants. Cooper has insisted he wants to work with Republicans while ensuring the safety of convention attendees and locals.
But Jones thinks Cooper is playing with fire to score political points, and he suggested it’s not wise to get into a battle of wills with Trump.
“He’s walking a tight rope on this one,” Jones said.