US President Donald Trump on July 11 2020. Picture: AFP/ALEX EDELMAN
US President Donald Trump on July 11 2020. Picture: AFP/ALEX EDELMAN

Washington/Bethesda — US President Donald Trump sought to revive his sagging campaign by cancelling the multi-day convention for his party to nominate him for a second term as Florida, the host state, posted record deaths from the coronavirus.

Trump has been battered by polls showing that the public disapproves of his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that has crashed the economy, infected 4-million Americans and killed 146,000.

And on Thursday, a Quinnipiac University survey showed Democrat nominee Joe Biden leading Trump by 13 percentage points in Florida, Trump’s adopted home state and a crucial electoral battleground.

“I told my team it’s time to cancel the Jacksonville, Florida component of the GOP convention,” Trump said on Thursday at the White House. “We didn’t want to take any chances.”

Trump began to treat the virus more seriously this week, offering daily news conferences where he encouraged people to wear masks after disdaining them for months, and acknowledging the seriousness of the virus after minimising its effect.

Trump had insisted for months that he would still hold his convention extravaganza despite worries that the gathering could become a super-spreader event. The Republican National Committee decided on June 11 to move the convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, after governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina refused to waive social-distancing and other measures to prevent contagion.

But just as preparations for the Florida event got under way, that state was hit with a surge of infections and now is one of the country’s hardest-hit areas, with a total so far of 389,868 confirmed cases — about 1.8% of the state’s population — and that number growing an average of more than 10,000 cases a day. The state posted a record 173 deaths on Thursday.

Trump, who thrives on the large crowds that attend his rallies, was clearly looking forward to an event that would give his campaign a jolt of enthusiasm. He tried that with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, his only one so far since the pandemic began in March. The event was only filled to about one-third of capacity and numerous people, including state officials, became ill.

Democrats scaled back their convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, earlier in the northern hemisphere summer, dispensing with the full pageantry and celebration that normally marks the nomination of a presidential candidate. The Democratic National Committee is allowing delegates to vote remotely and most of the speeches, except for Biden’s acceptance speech, which will be livestreamed. Biden will speak in Milwaukee but before a limited audience.

“Unlike Trump, we followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and worked through plans to protect lives,” Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said in a statement after Trump’s announcement.

The Republicans, urged on by Trump, had persisted in planning a full convention right up until his announcement at his daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday. He offered few details of how the GOP virtual event would work, except to say there would be a “reasonably quick meeting in North Carolina”.

‘We’ll figure it out’

“I’ll still do a convention speech in a different form but we won’t do a big crowded convention per se,” he said. “We’ll have a very nice something,” he added. “We’ll figure it out.”

Later on Thursday, Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News that “we’re setting an example”.

“I thought I had an obligation not to have large numbers, massive numbers of people crowded into a room,” the president said.

Local officials in the Republican-led city applauded the decision.

In a joint statement, Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry and sheriff Mike Williams applauded the move. “We appreciate President Donald Trump considering our public health and safety concerns in making this incredibly difficult decision,” they said on Twitter.

When Trump made the decision to move the convention in early June, Florida’s rate of coronavirus infections was well below the national average. But the rate escalated as beaches and Disney resorts started to reopen, fueled in part by growing infections in younger patients.

As recently as two weeks ago, the White House denied there were any second thoughts about holding a convention. “No, we’re still moving forward with Jacksonville,” said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “It’ll be a safe event. It will be a good event. And it will be up to the RNC as to how those details are hashed out.”

Bloomberg

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