Scrapping convention plan, Trump's explanation is unbelievable

Explaining why he pulled the plug on his Jacksonville convention plan, Trump told a story about his wisdom and magnanimity. It's literally unbelievable.
Donald Trump
Donald Trump smiles as he addresses delegates during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.Patrick Semansky / AP file
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By Steve Benen

It was in late May when Donald Trump sought a "guarantee" from North Carolina that it would give the president what he wanted for his party's national nominating convention: 50,000 Republicans, standing side by side, cheering him in an indoor venue, without regard for the painfully obvious health risks. Soon after, Trump also told North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) that attendees must not be required to wear masks or socially distance.

As regular readers know, these negotiations did not go well, which led the president to move much of the event to Jacksonville -- the north Florida city that appeared likely to make Trump happy.

The result was a slow-motion debacle that came to an ignominious end yesterday.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will no longer hold a large, in-person Republican convention in Jacksonville, Florida, because of the coronavirus but that he will hold virtual events and still give an acceptance speech.

The fact that Team Trump felt the need to scrap the Jacksonville plan did not come as too big of a surprise. What was striking, however, was the president describing the decision-making process to reporters at the White House yesterday afternoon.

To hear Trump tell it, the plan was coming together perfectly. "I never thought we could have something look so good, so fast with everything going on," he boasted, adding, "Everything was going well -- a tremendous list of speakers; thousands of people wanting to be there -- and I mean, in some cases, desperately be there."

Trump was assured that everything about the planned celebration of himself -- "the pageantry, the signs, the excitement" -- were "really, really top of the line."

But, the president added, he told his aides to cancel the event he recently told them to plan. Going on and on about how eager he was to put the public's needs above his own, Trump said he looked at his team and declared, “The timing for this event is not right. It’s just not right with what’s happened recently -- the flare up in Florida -- to have a big convention. It’s not the right time.”

Staffers pushed back, according to Trump's story, telling him that his original plan would work "very easily," "safely," and "responsibly." They also reminded him that "the polls" pointed to "the most enthusiasm" for his Jacksonville speech that they’d ever seen.

But the magnanimous president, indifferent to the spotlight, told them to stand down. His unyielding devotion to protecting the public during a public-health crisis led him to overrule his team and do the right thing, optics be damned.

That's the story Trump wants us to believe.

To be sure, it's possible that the president who has a habit of describing conversations that occurred only in his mind actually had this discussion with his staff. I can't definitely prove that he made all of this up.

But I also think it's fair to say Trump's story is literally unbelievable. We are, after all, talking about a scheduled spectacle that did not yet have a venue or a security plan. Prominent members of his own party made clear they had no intention of showing up for the president's celebration of himself, and it's quite likely public attendance was going to be just as serious a problem.

As for locals, who are struggling with growing coronavirus infection rates, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found that Floridians, by a nearly two-to-one margin, agreed that it would be unsafe to hold the Republican convention in Jacksonville.

Maybe Trump pulled the plug because of his sincere concerns about the pandemic he's downplayed for several months, or maybe he grudgingly came to terms that his bad idea could not be salvaged.

The Republican convention is, at least for now, scheduled to begin exactly one month from today -- in North Carolina.