WASHINGTON — Bowing to the coronavirus threat, President Donald Trump on Thursday scrapped plans for a four-night Republican National Convention celebration in Florida that had been set to draw more than 10,000 people to a pandemic hot spot to mark his renomination.
Trump had already moved the convention’s public events out of North Carolina because of virus concerns. But the spiking virus shifted south, too, and the planned gathering in Jacksonville increasingly appeared to be both a health and political risk. Trump and his advisers feared that going forward with big parties and “infomercial” programming in Florida would ultimately backfire on the president.
“It’s a different world, and it will be for a little while,” Trump said, explaining his decision at a White House coronavirus briefing. “To have a big convention is not the right time.”
A small subset of GOP delegates will still formally renominate Trump on Aug. 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina, at an event scheduled to last just four hours.
Trump had decided last month to shift the ceremonial portions of the GOP convention to Florida because of a dispute with North Carolina’s Democratic leaders over holding an indoor gathering with throngs of supporters taking a pass on face masks.
But his plans for a grand gathering in Florida starting shrinking almost as quickly as the move was announced, as virus cases spiked in the state and other parts of the country.
Trump said he plans to deliver his nomination acceptance speech in an alternate form still to be determined — perhaps online. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the campaign will still “provide exciting, informative, and enthusiastic programming so Republicans can celebrate the re-nomination of President Trump and Vice President Pence.”
Trump said thousands of his supporters and delegates wanted to attend the events in Florida, but “I just felt it was wrong” to gather them in a virus hot spot. Some of them would have faced quarantine requirements when they returned to their home states from the convention.
“We didn’t want to take any chances,” he added. “We have to be vigilant. We have to be careful, and we have to set an example.”
Democrats will hold an almost entirely virtual convention Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee using live broadcasts and online streaming, according to party officials. Joe Biden plans to accept the presidential nomination in person, but it remains to be seen whether there will be a significant in-person audience.