Report: GOP has ‘tentatively settled on Jacksonville’ for Trump’s big RNC party; but some say, ‘We can do without it’

Donald Trump addresses the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Credit: Nicolas Pinault, Voice of America

It looks increasingly likely that the Republican Party will move its August convention, at least in part, to Jacksonville following reports by The Washington Post and Republican Party of Florida, though not everyone is a fan.

As the Florida Phoenix has reported, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been leading cheers for bringing the convention — and its estimated $100 million economic impact — to Florida ever since talks broke down between President Donald Trump and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper over COVID-19 safety precautions at the original site, Charlotte.

DeSantis had mentioned Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami as possible venues.

So it wouldn’t come as a surprise that Jacksonville would be a strong possibility.

The Post reported in its Wednesday editions that party leaders “have tentatively settled on” Jacksonville as the venue. The newspaper cited “three Republican officials briefed on the plans.”

Meanwhile, state party leaders posted a tweet talking up the prospects.

“While no final decision has been made by the RNC we understand Jacksonville is a front runner. This certainly has been generating a lot of attention and excitement. We continue to believe that Florida would be the best place for the convention,” the tweet, attributed to chairman Joe Gruters, reads.

“Florida is open for business and ready to roll out the red carpet. If selected, our goal would be to host a safe, secure & successful event. Florida has a lot to offer & also happens to be the home of @realDonaldTrump and America’s best governor, @GovRonDeSantis@JoeGruters,” the party added.

The Phoenix wrote earlier that gathering nearly 20,000 participants in a large hall could risk turning the event into a disease vector.

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, state health officials reported 1,371 new positive COVID-19 cases in Florida and 36 deaths, increasing the totals to 67,371 cases and 2,801 deaths.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the only Democrat on the independently elected state Cabinet, is a firm No on the idea.

“While we welcome the economic boost an event like this would create, holding an event of this size in two months could put the safety of Floridians and attendees at risk. Before jumping into this decision I hope our Republican leaders put Floridians’ safety above politics,” she said on Twitter.

According to the Post, party officials would keep routine convention business in Charlotte while Jacksonville would give Trump a forum to rile up a mass of his followers. The proceedings are scheduled to run between Aug. 24 and Aug. 27.

One concern, the newspaper said, was whether the city has enough hotel rooms to accommodate 19,000 convention-goers and the additional thousands of hangers on at these events, compared to cities like Orlando and Miami more accustomed to housing travelers.

Aides to Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican like DeSantis, did not respond to requests for comment from the Phoenix this week.

Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, who leads Democrats in the Florida Senate, recalled that during the 2005 Super Bowl organizers docked cruise ships to house fans. More recently, those vessels have served as COVID vectors.

“I don’t think they can get any these days — not in a COVID environment,” Gibson told the Phoenix in a telephone interview.

She dismissed the entire business as “a dog and pony show.”

“I don’t know how we host an event here of that magnitude,” Gibson said. “The other side of that is, there’s so much going on,” she added, referring both to COVID and the police brutality unrest.

“The divisiveness that Trump creates, as far as I’m concerned is not welcome here. We can do without it.”