President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference Thursday, July 23, 2020, at the White House in Washington.
(The Center Square) – Florida’s Republican leaders and Jacksonville planners learned the Republican National Convention they were planning was canceled at the same time as the rest of the nation, when President Donald Trump abruptly scrubbed the four-day event in a surprise announcement from the White House.
“We won’t do a big, crowded convention, per se. It’s not the right time for that,” Trump said Thursday. “There’s nothing more important in our country than keeping our people safe. I just felt it was wrong” to have people “going to what turned out to be a hot spot.”
State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, praised the president’s decision as selfless.
“The president is obviously putting safety first and foremost, and I’m glad,” Gruters said. “We’re disappointed that this is not coming to Jacksonville, but Florida still loves the president, and we’re going to deliver the state.”
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Republican Party of Florida chairman, applauded Trump for “putting health and public safety first.”
“I know this was a difficult decision and just demonstrates and reaffirms once again his commitment to Jacksonville, the state of Florida and the people of the United States of America,” he said. “I’m grateful for him and his leadership, and this was the right way to move forward.”
The Republican National Committee (RNC) in June moved the “performative aspects” of the Aug. 24-27 Republican National Convention from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville after Trump said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper “forced” him to cancel in Charlotte by requesting a “scaled-down” convention because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a sustained COVID-19 resurgence sweeping Florida, RNC announced last week only 2,500 delegates would be allowed inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena during the first three days of the convention, with 7,500 people permitted to attend Trump’s acceptance speech on the last night.
RNC outlined vague plans to include outdoor events planned for Daily’s Place Amphitheater, TIAA Bank Field and 121 Financial Ballpark.
The event, initially forecast to draw 50,000 people and generate $100 million for local businesses, was expected to see about 10,000 attendees. More than 1,000 businesses and groups had applied for vendor permits.
Local officials, however, expressed reservations about hosting the convention. Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams said he had insufficient resources to ensure security, telling reporters Monday, “We can’t pull it off.”
The Jacksonville City Council on Wednesday drafted an emergency ordinance that created a convention zone and an area for protesters, who were expected by the thousands, and was set to review a proposal authorizing the city to spend $33 million on the convention to be reimbursed by the federal government.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed 62 percent of the state’s voters thought the convention would be unsafe. Two local polls also indicated overwhelming opposition, with 500 doctors signing an open letter calling on the city to cancel the convention if RNC would not.
Numerous GOP leaders, including eight U.S. senators, had announced they would not attend, and fundraising was falling short after some donors withdrew pledges.
Democrats praised the decision, derisively.
“I’m glad Donald Trump took his head out of the sand long enough to realize what a predictable, preventable disaster he was about to inflict on the city of Jacksonville,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement. “His ego-driven political stunt has wasted precious time and resources during a pandemic.”
Among critics of the decision was state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howie-in-the-Hills, who has filed at least 11 lawsuits against cities in the state, including Jacksonville, for imposing mandatory face mask mandates.
“Canceling the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville is a BIG mistake,” Sabatini tweeted Thursday evening.