Next up for convention weirdness: the Republican Party.
A group of delegates — six representing each state, territory and the District of Columbia for a total of 336 — is expected to begin arriving this weekend for the Republican National Convention before a formal roll call Monday morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. There, President Donald Trump will be nominated in a ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center to lead his party for another four years.
The gathering will be muted compared with what was originally envisioned, before the coronavirus pandemic upended both parties’ convention plans.
Charlotte, originally prepared to host a raucous presidential renomination celebration, will now be where the procedural party business will take place. Republican National Committee members will gather over the weekend for their annual summer meeting. And Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a group of congressional lawmakers are expected to arrive Monday for the televised, in-person roll call and for brief nomination speeches.
The Democrats held four nights of virtual programming this week for the Democratic National Convention. Next week, the Republicans will take over the Mellon Auditorium in Washington as the hub for their broadcasts, and the main speeches will take place at the White House and at Fort McHenry in Maryland.
But Charlotte, selected more than two years ago as the site for the Republican National Convention, has the distinction this year of being the only in-person portion of either party’s quadrennial gathering.
“I’m very excited about attending,” said Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. She said the delegation representing her state was chosen months ago, when the plan was to take a chartered plane directly from Charlotte to Jacksonville, Florida, after the roll call, for the rest of the convention. “People are sad not to be able to participate in the convention, but at least there’s this piece of it,” Cox said.
In June, Trump abruptly moved the convention to Jacksonville after reaching a stalemate with Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, over social distancing rules. The president had no interest in speaking in front of a less-than-packed arena because delegates were forced to stand 6 feet away from one another.
But Trump was eventually forced to scrap the Jacksonville plans in favor of four nights of virtual prime-time programming that will feature party leaders speaking from a variety of federal properties. (The Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job, be damned.)
Even just bringing delegates together in person — and indoors — has required months of planning by Republican officials, who submitted a 42-page health plan to North Carolina officials and hired a doctor, Jeffrey W. Runge, to serve as a senior adviser to the convention proceedings.
The result, at least optically, will be exactly the scene Trump had hoped to avoid: a cavernous room that, because of social distancing requirements, will look mostly empty — if people follow the rules. The roll call, during which delegates enumerate their votes and sing the praises of their states, will be done by people whose faces are covered by masks.
But Trump is still expected to attend Monday, to thank delegates and to deliver a brief nomination speech, although his appearance in Charlotte was not confirmed as of Thursday night.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, had been deliberating with Trump about who should deliver the speech “seconding” his nomination, but the president had yet to choose, according to a person involved in the discussions.
“Democrats have abandoned Wisconsin for two elections in a row,” she said, referring to their decision to forgo any in-person piece of their convention that had been set to be held in Milwaukee before the pandemic. “But we were not going to let the governor’s partisan politics come between us and our commitment to North Carolina.”
Even Trump detractors said bringing together Republican Party die-hards from across the country had some political advantage.
“Waving the middle finger to public health guidelines, the ‘political establishment’ and the ‘mainstream media’ in the form of an in-person roll call amid the pandemic is a great way to invigorate his hard-core base,” said Lucy Caldwell, a Republican strategist and adviser to former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who challenged Trump this year in the Republican primary race.
Leading up to kickoff weekend, Republican National Convention attendees were asked to stay at home as much as possible beginning Aug. 6, before their travel, to reduce potential exposure to the coronavirus. While in Charlotte, attendees are expected to have their temperatures taken before entering the venue and then given a daily “health-pass bracelet” that will allow them to participate, according to a copy of the Republicans’ health plan obtained by The New York Times.
All attendees are expected to maintain at least a 6-foot distance from one another while inside the venue, and the Republican National Committee said it would enforce a statewide mask mandate and provide masks, gloves, portable hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes to all attendees. The committee also said it planned to contact every attendee five, 14 and 21 days after the event to track the possible spread of the coronavirus.
The health protocols have helped ease concerns from local Democratic officials who were apprehensive about a large-scale gathering.
“They’ve got a plan, and they’ve outlined it, and, I, at least, believe it’s been well thought out,” said Larken Egleston, a Democratic City Council member in Charlotte. Egleston said Runge had briefed the council and was “doing his job in a nonpartisan way.”
“I’m glad that it’s not the convention that we originally thought it would be,” Egleston said. “But as scaled back as it is, I think it can be done safely.”
But the Republican National Committee was still hoping to provide some kind of enjoyable social experience for attendees. Delegates and members will have the option to go to a jazz club and have dinner out, according to a person involved in the planning, who said that despite all of the health precautions, they still wanted to “normalize” the experience.