For their 2020 presidential national convention, the Democrats chose Milwaukee, Wisconsin while the Republicans chose Charlotte, North Carolina. A lot of thought went into these selections, but one of the key considerations for both parties was the competitiveness of the hosting states. Among states that Hillary Clinton came close to winning in 2016, Wisconsin ranks either second or third. Only Michigan was closer in terms of overall votes, and only Michigan and Pennsylvania were closer in terms of overall percentage. North Carolina was 6th in percentage (Trump +3.7) and 12th in vote margin (173,315). Both states have shown recent swing, with Obama carrying Wisconsin twice and North Carolina in 2008.
Holding a multi-day political convention in a competitive state can give a party an edge. It’s not only a gigantic local advertisement, it’s a great opportunity to organize for the general election. All other things being equal, it’s a good idea to chose a convention site that has at least the potential to flip or secure a state in your column. I never really understood why either party would want to hold their convention in New York City for exactly this reason.
So, the two parties made sensible decisions for 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated their plans. It’s not clear that it will be safe to hold a four-day indoor rally with more than 10,000 attendees. The Democrats are working with Milwaukee and appear to be remaining flexible in their approach, but Donald Trump is determined to hold a traditional event and he gave the Democratic governor of North Carolina an ultimatum that he would pull the convention from Charlotte if there were any restrictions like a requirement that people wear masks or socially distance within the arena. After Governor Roy Cooper refused to give him those assurances, Trump announced on Tuesday night that he would pull out of the contract and find another location for the Republican National Convention.
It may not be so simple for Trump to pull this off. Charlotte won a competitive bidding process and has already been awarded money for security. There are a bunch of contracts, and many of them probably cannot be voided simply on Trump’s whim. For this reason, some people believe that the business elements of the convention will still take place in Charlotte but that some other arena will be found for the pageantry.
Florida, Georgia and Tennessee are possible locations for the latter event. Wherever it is, it will have to be a Republican-run state that doesn’t care about either the health of the party delegates or the implications of having people from every state and territory come together during a pandemic and then disperse the virus back to from where they came.
Florida has hosted quite a few national conventions, but it’s fallen out of favor due to the risk of scheduling such a critical event there in the heart of hurricane season. Georgia could be a very competitive state, so it might make more sense than Tennessee.
With President Trump, nothing seems to proceed normally, so a split convention would just be one more thing on a long list of novelties. I don’t think he can back down now and have the full convention in Charlotte, so I guess we’ll find out whether he can figure out a way to have the kind of celebration he wants. Considering the logistics involved and the short timeline, it will be a miracle of this doesn’t become a debacle. And, even if he can find a willing host and get all the guests a hotel room, he’ll have to convince them to show up and expose themselves to COVID-19.
Finally, he’ll have to hope the outbreak doesn’t flare up everywhere as a result, which seems highly unlikely.
I’m beginning to understand why Trump’s parents shipped him off to military school.