Has the Republican Party shrunk under Trump?
If you look at pictures from past party conventions of the Republicans and Democrats, you will see this above all: a huge spectacle. Up to 50,000 people are at such a convention in normal times.
As delegates, officials, spin doctors, reporters, cameramen, technicians and whoever else is needed so that after almost four days of political speeches the final decision is finally made, the nomination of the candidate for the upcoming presidential election. Then thousands of balloons and tons of glitter strips fall from the ceiling of the hall.
The people in the hall full of pick-packs lie in each other's arms, some with tears in their eyes. It is emotional moments like these that send Americans into the crucial phase of the election campaign.
But this year is anything but normal. The corona pandemic hit the United States with full force. First the west coast, then even harder the east coast. Now also the south. The numbers are again increasing exponentially in some states.
The Democrats quickly understood that they would not be able to hold their party conference as usual. The place remains: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But otherwise everything is different.
In order to buy time, the Democrats initially postponed the party conference from mid-July to mid-August. Then from a large hall to a small hall. First the delegates were given the option of coming to Milwaukee in person. It is now clear that the party congress will probably take place largely virtually. Even the idea that there should be mini party conferences in the individual states, which are then switched on via screen, is now off the table. No unnecessary crowds, please.
Joe Biden is supposed to give his nomination speech on site. But whether that will happen in front of an audience is still open. All votes will take place online before the start of the party conference on August 17th. All this is far removed from the usual pomp and glory.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, is still hoping for the big entrance. If it were up to him, the party conference would go ahead as planned in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the end of August. With the same gorgeous images as in 2016 when it was first nominated.
Roy Cooper, Democratic Governor of North Carolina, thwarted him. Cooper refused to approve the convention without an accurate health plan. At least the requirements of the federal health protection authority, the CDC, should be complied with. So: mask requirement, distance requirement and significantly fewer visitors.
Trump did not want to get involved in that. He wants a hall full of people cheering loudly. A nightmare for any epidemiologist.
The Republicans ultimately decided that the so-called "business" portion of the convention would remain in Charlotte. Office holders and functionaries then meet in the usual back room groups. The pompous part with the speeches and the glitter and Trump's nomination speech should take place in Jacksonville, Florida.
A nightmare for any epidemiologist
That alone sounds like a suicide mission to experienced party conference organizers. Usually the party, federal agencies and the local host committee prepare a convention long enough, says David Gilbert, who was the 2016 president of the 2016 Republican convention host committee in Cleveland, told CNBC. Cleveland, for example, was selected as the host city two years before the start of the convention. Jacksonville only has a few weeks. And that even under the dramatic boundary conditions of a pandemic.
When the decision to go to Jacksonville was made, the corona numbers in Florida were already slowly increasing. Those responsible could have guessed that it would not last long. But like many others, they underestimated the power of exponential growth.
In the meantime, the Republican-led state has risen to become the new corona center in the United States. On Sunday, more than 15,000 new infections were registered there in 24 hours, a new record for the USA. The hospitals are filling up with severe Covid-19 cases. The death rate is increasing. Also because here, to the applause of the US President, restaurants and shops were allowed to reopen too early.
Some Republican senators have since announced that they will not be traveling to Jacksonville. Including Chuck Grassley from Iowa. The oldest Republican senator, aged 86, said he hadn't missed a party conference since 1980. But because of the pandemic, he won't be there this year.
In the meantime, consideration is being given to moving the party conference to an open-air stadium. Various locations in Jacksonville have already been scouted. But the President has the last word.
The disadvantages are obvious: Even at the end of August it is brutally hot in Florida with up to 35 degrees Celsius in the shade. And also brutally humid. Heat thunderstorms sweep across the country practically every day. The likelihood is high that people will suffer a heat collapse or Trump's speech will be interrupted by a downpour that will submerge half the stadium.
But that's not all: The hasty move of the main part of the convention to Jacksonville also poses financial challenges for the Republicans. Such a party congress costs millions. And it is mainly financed by donations. Around 38 million dollars have already been invested in Charlotte in preparation for the party congress. Everything for the cat.
The party convention fund was as good as empty. According to a report by New York Times Republicans are now struggling to raise enough money to prepare for Jacksonville. The cost of a regular party conference is estimated at $ 100 million. Potential donors withhold their money. You don't want to experience a similar flop as in Charlotte.
Nobody can still say for sure whether there will actually be a big party congress at the end of August with these high numbers of infections. Jacksonville was classified as another "hotspot" by the US Department of Health last week. Mass tests have now been ordered for the city to get an overview of the scope of the outbreak.
The Republican Mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry, ordered a mask requirement for interiors in late June. Last Friday he explained the circumstances under which he would ask the Republican Party to go elsewhere: if there is an outbreak in his city that the hospitals can no longer handle.
The Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, on the other hand, makes no move to send Florida into an at least partial lockdown again. Only bars and night clubs remain closed. It is very doubtful whether he will be able to bring the pandemic under control by the end of August.
Trump seems to be slowly realizing that a classic party congress could remain a pipe dream. He was very "flexible", he said last week. At the weekend, Trump was seen in public with a mask for the first time.
Another risk for Trump's party congress organizers: what if hardly anyone comes again? In early June, Trump wanted to hold his first major election rally since the US pandemic broke out in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His campaign had expected up to 60,000 participants. According to the Tulsa Fire Department, only 6,200 fans came.
The second attempt failed last Saturday. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Trump wanted to be celebrated by his supporters in a hangar at the local airport. There, too, there were growing signs that not enough Trump admirers would come to make the hangar appear full. Because of an allegedly threatening storm, the rally was canceled the day before. At the time, however, there was no weather forecast predicting a storm in Portsmouth. Indeed, the sun was shining over New Hampshire on Saturday.
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