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Republicans look at multi-city convention for Trump's renomination

A rolling convention could allow the president to say he held the highest-attended event ever for a nominee.
Image: DOnald Trump, Republican National Convention: Day Four
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd at the end of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — As Republicans scramble to reboot the GOP convention, one option gaining traction is a multistate affair with major speeches and rallies in a variety of cities, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

Part of the appeal of the roadshow approach is that it could allow President Donald Trump to claim having commanded the highest-attended convention audience in history, they said, and to accept his renomination with all the fanfare he envisioned.

"I think it's going to be a glorified rally," a person familiar with the conversations said of the president's keynote address.

After canceling plans this week to hold the GOP convention in Charlotte, North Carolina — plans years in the making — Trump and the Republican National Committee are surveying at least seven states and nine cities as possible alternatives.

GOP officials are already on the ground in places like Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Dallas; Phoenix; and New Orleans. They may also schedule scouting visits to Atlanta; Savannah, Georgia; and Las Vegas in the weeks to come.

They said no final decisions have been made on a location — or locations.

The search is taking place as public polling shows Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden and as his own campaign's spending shows concern over states that he won handily in 2016.

The president met with his top political aides and advisers Thursday in the Oval Office, where they discussed "very concerning" internal polling in reliably Republican states, such as Texas, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

He then addressed campaign and RNC staff in a larger gathering, where the president was "in an upbeat mood" and "in very high spirits," a staffer in the room said. He indicated that he is "eager" to get back on the campaign trail, but no decisions were made in the meeting about when the campaign may return to future rallies.

Some official convention business, such as finalizing the GOP platform, is still expected to be conducted in Charlotte, given contractual obligations and significant financial investments that Republicans have already made there.

The more public-facing part, however, will be uprooted just 80 days ahead of time — in a highly unusual move.

The Republican National Committee announced in July 2018 that the convention would take place in Charlotte.

The scope of a reimagined convention to nominate Trump for a second term hinges largely on cost and how quickly Republicans can raise enough money to fund events both in Charlotte and elsewhere.

The idea of a roving multistate convention also depends in part on the ability to quickly work out logistics, such as how to accommodate delegates who have planned for months and years on traveling to Charlotte.

But a grandiose statement of having hosted the most-attended convention in history is one that Trump, a former reality television star who fixates on crowd size, is very interested in making, people familiar with the discussions said.

One way that might work would be for rallies to feed into a venue in Charlotte by video on the first three nights of the convention, ending with delegates attending the president's keynote speech on the final night in person in a different city.

If the RNC does decide to do a multi-city tour, the events would all have a "rally-type look and feel," according to an official.

There's acknowledgement that this has never been done before and that there's no precedent for a split convention in this manner, because there's "only one decision-maker that actually matters," and that is the president, this person said.

The coronavirus pandemic has already significantly altered the presidential race, with Democrats acknowledging the possibility that part of their gathering will be held virtually. Republicans have rejected any such plan for their event.

And Trump said he was unwilling even to accept modifications that GOP organizers had been discussing for weeks, such as practicing social distancing on the convention floor and limiting in-person attendance.

Mass protests in recent weeks over the killing of George Floyd also complicated potential health considerations for later in the summer. The uncertainty of a large spike in cases cemented North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's inability to guarantee that thousands could gather in his state in late August.

The RNC repeatedly asked Cooper to commit to allowing as many as 19,000 people in the Spectrum Center, an assurance that he said couldn't be provided because of health and safety concerns.

Instead, GOP officials decided to move ahead with surveying other places in states that had more relaxed coronavirus guidelines and would be willing to host a large-scale event. Republican governors from Florida, Georgia and Texas quickly raised their hands.

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As for Charlotte, contracts that were made two years ago are regarded as ironclad, and money that was raised by committees to hold the four-day event there is still expected to be allocated to the city.

Still, Charlotte officials are reviewing the language of the deals and considering taking legal action against the RNC.

"We have yet to receive any official notification from the Republican National Committee regarding its intent for the location of the convention. We have a contract in place with the RNC to host the convention and the City Attorney will be in contact with the attorneys for the RNC to understand their full intentions," the city wrote in a statement Wednesday.

There are major unanswered questions about all the hotels and flights that have been prepaid for by the more than 2,000 delegates who had already planned to be in Charlotte.

In one scenario, Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel could gavel in the convention in North Carolina and then a significant proportion of attendees would travel together to the next site, where the president and the vice president might deliver their speeches.

Of the places GOP officials are exploring, Florida has been most aggressive in courting Republicans. A person familiar with the discussions said Florida particularly is a state to watch given the extent to which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally, has been pushing for it.

But Trump could let the process play out a little longer.

"My guess is they will let this process get competitive," this person said.