The 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, for years envisioned as the triumphant nomination of Donald Trump for a second term, seems destined for a major overhaul in the midst of a global pandemic that's on track to kill 100,000 Americans. Adding to the intrigue--and tension--is the fact that the host city has a Democratic mayor, Vi Lyles, and Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.
"It's a real tough squeeze for Governor Cooper," ABC News Political Director Rick Klein said. "He knows he doesn't want to look political in blocking the Republican convention. He wants that convention to go off rather flawlessly, but he also knows there's a public health concern at every turn here."
Indeed, the quadrennial conventions are among the biggest gatherings in the world and comparable only to the Super Bowl and Olympics when it comes to cost, publicity, attention and crowds.
RNC officials have long touted the convention's economic boon for Charlotte because it could bring in as many as 50,000 people.
"There are going to be too many human beings staying in too many hotels, eating too many meals, walking around and taking Ubers and car rides in too many places, for it look like what we would expect it to look in the COVID19 crisis," Klein, himself a veteran of several conventions, laments. "If a convention goes forward as it has in the past, there's really no way to distance socially around that."
Like a true purple state, North Carolina falls somewhere in the middle of states re-emerging from COVID-19 related lockdowns; Phase 2 began on May 22, easing restrictions on restaurants, salons and pools. That's moving ahead of some of the hard hit states like New York and New Jersey, but slower than its nearby neighbors South Carolina and Georgia, where residents can go bowling and take in a movie after dinner.
Even if North Carolina moves into Phase 3, which could begin as early as June 26th, further loosening restrictions still wouldn't allow for any big concerts, sporting events - or conventions.
"We actually know that North Carolina's first cases in this state were seeded from a mass gathering up in New England," Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services, said last week. "So we know those kinds of events have huge implications, not just for here in North Carolina but can cross state lines."
And since conventions are officially the amassing of state delegates, the throngs of attendees would be pouring in from across the country (not to mention all the media from around the world).
Dr. Greg Murphy, a Republican congressman and urologist from Greenville, is in a unique position--he has access to both the Cooper and Trump administrations.
"I think that frank conversations and honest conversations between the Governor of North Carolina and the President of the United States would be beneficial to both," Dr. Murphy said via Zoom conference. "This is a big deal for our state, it's a big deal for Charlotte, it's a big deal for the Republicans of this country, so I think a way to make this happen surely can be found."
Murphy, a former state lawmaker, offered a rather accurate foreshadow of how North Carolina and the country could reignite the economy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, including many suggested restrictions and modifications for businesses that made their way into Phase 1 and Phase 2.
Regarding the RNC, Murphy said it can't go on "as normal" even if it is moved elsewhere.
"To think the virus is going to magically go away on a certain day and certain period of time is not realistic," Murphy said. "I think you're going to have to establish some rules. Maybe you cut down on some delegates, maybe you allow delegates to vote remotely. Why couldn't we establish some guidelines in making sure people get tested beforehand or people are quarantined beforehand so this can be done in a safe manner?"
Though still critical of Governor Cooper's slow pace of reopening, Murphy clearly is aiming at a middle ground, and it's notable that neither he nor his Republican colleague, Rep. Richard Hudson of the state's eighth district, took aim at either side in the RNC debate.
"I thank Gov. Cooper for working with Charlotte Motor Speedway to bring back racing this week to Concord," Hudson said in an email, referring to the Coca Cola 600. "I hope he will also work with the RNC to make sure we keep this event in North Carolina that's important to the economy of our region and state. Care must be taken to protect public health, but it can be done."
Michael Whatley, the NCGOP Chairman, also steered clear of targeting Cooper.
"The @NCGOP is excited to rollout the red carpet and welcome @realDonaldTrump and the @GOP to Charlotte," he tweeted Monday morning. "We can have a safe Convention in NC and nominate President Trump for #FourMoreYears."
The @NCGOP is excited to rollout the red carpet and welcome @realDonaldTrump and the @GOP to Charlotte. We can have a safe Convention in NC and nominate President Trump for #FourMoreYears #NCGOP https://t.co/wUCfGJUQL1— Michael Whatley (@WhatleyNCGOP) May 25, 2020
The City of Charlotte was chosen to host the RNC Convention back in 2018; the dates for convention were announced in March 2019.
That means there have been 14 months--and millions of dollars--already spent planning logistics and security, among myriad other issues; so even if the President and the GOP wished to relocate the convention, could that even be possible in 91 days?
"I don't want that to happen," Murphy said. "I don't want that for the people of North Carolina. I want honest and frank discussions to occur between the president's administration and the Governor of North Carolina. That's how you get things done so it isn't so partisan."
Partisanship, or even the optics of it, would moreover be unavoidable even if the convention were to move to states with Republican governors like Florida, Georgia or Arizona.
"Florida would make a lot of sense," Klein said. "Florida is where he is now a resident and he spends a lot of time at Mar a Lago. Governor (Ron) DeSantis is someone who is very close to him."
The state, however, is not nearly as involved as the municipality is in staging the convention (just ask some Charlotte City Council members). That means cities like Tampa, Orlando or Miami, many of them run by Democrats (same with their counties) may be very cool to the idea of a sudden surge of attention.
"Making that kind of a rock solid guarantee that the president is looking for, I don't think there's any political leader in the country who would feel comfortable doing that right now," Klein said. "There is no way to effectively social distance when you gather with this number of people literally from all over the country and all over the world. People convening on one city, breathing that same air."
Which brings us back to this 2nd Half, 3rd Period, 4th Quarter and 9th inning in a game ripe with medical science and political science.
Will the RNC go on as planned in Charlotte? How much, if at all, will the metrics change when it comes to COVID-19 positive cases, hospitalizations, deaths and recoveries in the next three months? Could the convention really move--as the President suggests--and go on somewhere else, in some other arena or stadium? Could any of this happen without any outbreaks of the the coronavirus that could lead to people in the hospital or, Gd forbid, add to the death toll?
Like the coronavirus itself, this novel predicament is both unpredictable and overwhelming. It also has the potential to bring us together...or further apart.