There was more than one reason to call off the party. It was because of the pandemic, of course. The president said as much when he announced last week that most the Republican National Convention would not occur. As cases of coronavirus spiked in Florida, so did concern over the health and safety of the participants who would soon flood the streets of Jacksonville. But RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel had someone else to also blame: Democrats.
McDaniel told RealClearPolitics on Tuesday that she wasn’t taken aback when Trump walked into the briefing and ended the show before it started. Why? Because several Democratic governors had issued 14-day quarantines for people traveling back home from Florida.
The return trip from that Sunshine State would have been meant a logistical nightmare for thousands of attendees, and McDaniel explained that delegates with full-time jobs outside of politics could not sit at home for two weeks in self-isolation.
“I wasn’t that surprised … with the spike in coronavirus cases there,” she said during a wide-ranging interview. “And the concern we had [was] with Democratic governors, which we’re starting to see now, that would refuse to let our delegates return to their states or [require] them to quarantine for 14 days.”
“It was just not looking like something that could be tenable,” she added. “We’ve continually seen Democratic governors who use coronavirus to expand their powers.”
Pomp and splendor in person will be replaced by video conferencing, the latest change forced by a pandemic that knows no politics and cares little for even the best presidential election plans. The virtual get-together is still planned for the last week of August, and Trump talked with a twinge of obvious regret when he announced the news.
The president likes to party, so much so that he had moved the entire convention from North Carolina to his new home state of Florida. But the biology of a still little-understood virus ruined his political plans. “It’s just not right,” he announced during his rare moment of self-denial in the White House briefing room. “There’s nothing more important in our country than keeping our people safe, whether that’s from the China virus or the radical-left mob that you see in Portland.”
Trump sounded legitimately disappointed when he noted that he had lined up a “tremendous” list of speakers. Reality had eventually set in. The celebrity-showman-turned pandemic-president said his celebratory event couldn’t happen: “It’s really something that, for me, I have to protect the American people.”
Some delegates are still booking flights, though. A limited number will gather in Charlotte, where the RNC is still hosting its summer meeting the weekend of Aug. 22-23. On that Monday morning and while social-distancing, they will officially re-nominate Trump. But the new plans and sudden cancellation, just a month before guests were supposed to start arriving, suggested other concerns as well. Worries about staging a large political bash during a pandemic were paramount. Also significant: fears of violent protests and worries of political liability.
Sources told RCP leading up to the announcement that there were suspicions that the show might not happen because of security gaps as well as pricey legal fights. The GOP was on the hook for previously signed contracts with various vendors and businesses in Charlotte. Republicans expected to hold the convention there until North Carolina’s governor imposed strict social-distancing rules and essentially pulled the plug. That changed plans. It didn’t necessarily negate contracts for hotels and event spaces.
Party sources also suggested the increased state quarantines could play a role, along with limits the Republican Party was imposing on itself. Earlier in July, the RNC executive committee unanimously approved efforts to purposefully pare down attendance on the first days and limit it to regular delegates only. Alternates and guests would be limited to attending Thursday festivities, the day Trump was set to accept the nomination.
“Who in their right mind would be willing to go down there and then quarantine for two weeks, particularly if you’re an alternate?” one person involved in planning told the Miami Herald.
Getting back home might have been a bigger headache. Welcome mats are swiftly being rolled up as 17 states — from Alaska and New Mexico to South Carolina and Maine — have imposed new travel restrictions. The requirements vary. So does enforcement. Some recommend quarantines. Others mandates them and threaten a hefty fine. Failure to self-isolate for two weeks in the Empire State, for instance, could bring a $2,000 penalty.
McDaniel said those new travel quarantines would make it extremely difficult for many GOP delegates to remain in their homes for two weeks after taking a week off for the big event. It might be the biggest political party, the epicenter of the political world. But delegates have responsibilities that make self-quarantine impossible.
“That’s why the RNC has been involved with a lot of litigation, with some of these states, because the governors are far exceeding their powers,” McDaniel said, “and that was the concern we had with Florida even with the testing every day.”
This dynamic would also apply to the upper crust inside the Washington Beltway. Party brass and operatives would have to temporarily take themselves out of the game if they made the trip. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered travelers who had been in more than half the country’s states to isolate for 14 days before returning to normal life in the nation’s capital.
“We know, unfortunately, that there are states that are seeing significant spikes and new cases. We know that there are places where people are not being as cautious or making the sacrifices that we’re making here in D.C.,” Bowser said.
Bowser said nothing about the series of sometimes violent protests that erupted in D.C. in the wake of George Floyd’s death and that raged on for weeks, with thousands gathering together in large crowds outside the White House. Many wore masks. Some did not.
The quarantine rule doesn’t apply for people performing essential work in hot-spot states, such as frontline health workers and members of Congress. Even the Washington Nationals baseball team and its employees have been given a waiver. But the waiver didn’t apply to party organizers, and the party just had to end.