Wait, the president is coming back?
Just when North Carolina thought it could breathe easy about next month’s 2020 Republican National Convention. Just when officials here were feeling kinship with Jacksonville officials for dodging the safety concerns that President Donald Trump’s nomination acceptance would bring. Just when we thought all those issues were someone else’s, they’re ... not?
In an interview with WRAL on July 27, the president said he again plans to accept the Republican nomination in North Carolina. The four-day convention was originally scheduled to begin Aug. 24 at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center before Trump in June moved it to Jacksonville. Trump said details on the new plans would be announced later this week, which means the when, where and how of such an event remain unanswered.
North Carolina should get ahead of those questions now. Officials should make clear to the president and Republican Party that outside of the small RNC business meetings that were still scheduled to be held in Charlotte, an event that would bring significantly more people together is unwelcome and unsafe.
North Carolina is in the midst of a COVID-19 surge, and Charlotte is experiencing the most substantial spread of the virus in the state. The state has lost almost two months of planning since Trump announced by tweet June 2 that the convention was leaving North Carolina. There are substantial questions about how any city could pull off security and other preparations for any larger-scale RNC event or events.
It’s unclear if that’s even what the president has in mind. Mayor Vi Lyles told the Charlotte Business Journal on July 28 that she hadn’t heard from the RNC, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s office told the Editorial Board the same. It’s possible even that Trump’s announcement was news to the White House; after all, Trump’s staff reportedly was caught by surprise last week when he said he would throw out the first pitch at an Aug. 15 Major League Baseball game at Yankee Stadium. That appearance isn’t happening.
Trump says, laughably, that he’s all about safety with the convention. When he scrapped plans last week for RNC 2020 in COVID-plagued Jacksonville, he said: “I looked at my team and I said the timing for this event is not right. It’s just not right.” He added: “There’s nothing more important in our country than keeping our people safe.”
Trump, of course, blamed N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper for his smart refusal to guarantee that Republicans could hold convention events with “full attendance” and no masks or social distancing.
Such is the worry once again for North Carolina. It’s not at all inconceivable that an unpredictable president could pivot once again and demand a bigger event that’s not safe. Or Trump’s idea of safe might not square with what Cooper or Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen consider prudent. Those negotiations were ugly last time, thanks to the president. Cooper should put a stop to them before they begin again.
The governor should inform the president that North Carolina remains under Phase 2 of its reopening, which allows no more than 10 people to gather indoors or 25 people outdoors, including at event venues, conference centers, stadiums and sports arenas. Our COVID-19 numbers remain alarmingly high, and even if the state were to somehow enter Phase 3 next month, a gathering of thousands of people is unlikely in any city that could accommodate it.
Trump could broadcast an acceptance speech from one of the small delegate meetings that is already scheduled in Charlotte, but any larger-scale event simply would not be safe. That was true in June, and it still is.
Today’s editorial is from The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.