Trump threatens North Carolina, demands convention 'guarantee'

The good news is, Donald Trump hasn't repeated his recent threats against Michigan and Nevada. The bad news is, he's now threatening North Carolina.
Image: The Republican National Convention stage
The Republican National Convention stage at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18, 2016 .Alex Wong / Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

The good news is, Donald Trump hasn't repeated his recent threats against Michigan and Nevada. The bad news is, the president is now threatening North Carolina.

As states struggle to contain the coronavirus outbreak that's killed nearly 100,000 Americans, President Donald Trump threatened to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, if there is a chance the venue might not be filled there later this summer due to virus-related restrictions.

"Unfortunately, Democrat Governor [Roy Cooper] is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena," Trump wrote over the holiday weekend as part of a series of missives. (I have a hunch he meant "mode," not "mood," but with this guy, it's hard to know for sure.) He added that without a guarantee, Republicans "will be reluctantly forced to find" an alternative convention site.

Some history is probably in order. When RNC officials began exploring venues a few years ago, several prominent cities -- including Orlando, Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, and Pittsburgh -- said they had no interest. By some accounts, Republican officials specifically asked officials in Dallas to submit a bid, but they declined.

The original RNC materials told cities the convention bidding deadline was Feb. 28, 2018, but Republican officials ended up extending that deadline for reasons that went unexplained.

Eventually, Charlotte ended up with the convention, despite all kinds of objections from locals. And with three months remaining before the event is scheduled to kick off, Trump is now raising the possibility of a late change in direction.

Part of the problem is that the president is looking for a guarantee that no one can provide. Three months is a long time in a pandemic -- consider how much changed in the United States between Feb. 26 and May 26 -- and anyone offering assurances about conditions in late August is kidding themselves.

Complicating matters, conditions in North Carolina, where infections are on the rise, are far from ideal. As NBC News' report noted, the state recently reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day. Edmund Driggs, a Republican member of the Charlotte City Council, recently told the New York Times, "I think it's very clear it may not be possible to host a convention as planned."

Trump nevertheless wants a "guarantee" that North Carolina's largest city will give the president what he wants: 50,000 Republicans, standing side by side, cheering him in an indoor venue, without regard for the painfully obvious health risks.

So, what happens now? According to the president's tweets -- which may or may not reflect reality -- Trump expects an "immediate" answer from Gov. Roy Cooper's (D) office. Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, told Fox News yesterday that Republicans are looking at Georgia, Texas, and Florida as alternative locations.

It's possible this is all an elaborate bluff. Organizing a major party national convention is a massive undertaking -- there's a reason the RNC started exploring its 2020 options in 2017 -- and it's difficult to imagine something being thrown together in a new venue in three months.

But Trump is Trump, and he's clearly demonstrated a willingness to put aside rational considerations in pursuit of applause.

Update: In response to some reporting that the president might want to relocate his party's convention to his Miami-area golf resort, Trump denied the reports, saying its ballroom isn't big enough.

It was an unfortunate response: he was supposed to say he wouldn't do this because it'd be outrageously corrupt, not because the venue wouldn't feature enough cheering supporters.