Trump's convention cancellation is costing GOP donors millions

Of the $38 million raised by the host committee for Charlotte, North Carolina, most has been spent, according to Republicans familiar with the finances.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump waves upon arrival to Bedminster, New Jersey, on July 24, 2020.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

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By Kristen Welker, Carol E. Lee, Shannon Pettypiece and Monica Alba

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s whipsaw decisions to first move the Republican National Convention’s in-person main events, then to cancel them are costing GOP donors millions of dollars, according to multiple Republicans familiar with the finances.

Of the $38 million raised by the host committee for the convention’s original location — Charlotte, North Carolina — the majority has been spent, the Republican officials said. The host committee in Jacksonville, Florida, where Trump had moved the convention, raised an additional $6 million, but GOP officials said much of that money remains.

Now, the president’s team is searching not only for a new stage from which he can deliver a speech accepting his party’s nomination for a second term, but also a way to appease Republicans who have nothing to show for their donations.

Republican officials are uncertain what, if any, of the money will get reimbursed to donors. One plan under consideration is to ask the donors to allow their contributions to be reallocated for other events, they said.

“Costs have been incurred,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Friday on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily,” adding that no taxpayer dollars had been spent on the convention and that “the host committee and the donors understand” about any money that’s been lost.

Many of Trump’s allies were surprised by his abrupt announcement on Thursday that he was canceling the convention in Jacksonville, where organizers were preparing for a three-day event with several thousand people capped with a keynote address from the president.

Convention organizers had continued to push donors for additional contributions up until the announcement was made. Trump said it wasn’t safe to hold the event with cases of the coronavirus surging in Florida.

Republicans have publicly expressed support for Trump’s decision, but some GOP donors are upset he opted not to go forward with an in-person convention.

“This is the cancel culture run wild,” said one top Republican donor.

“I am livid and profoundly disappointed at the convention being canceled,” the donor said. “It should be further scaled down.”

The Republican National Committee announced two years ago that it would host the 2020 convention in Charlotte. Trump pulled the plug on much of that last month because North Carolina’s governor wanted organizers to implement safety precautions such as social distancing on convention floor, and he chose Jacksonville as the replacement location.

The convention host committees are separate entities from the RNC. When asked for comment, the RNC pointed to a Thursday tweet from GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saying the president’s “number one priority in this decision was the safety of the people of Jacksonville, the convention attendees, and all of the American people.”

The president’s team is scrambling to reimagine his convention, which is scheduled to be at the end of August, as a virtual one. One of the challenges dogging Republican planners is how they will be able to deliver the same pomp and pageantry of the 2016 convention, which the president relishes.

Trump’s decision to cancel Jacksonville came after discussions with his political advisers, who made the case that proceeding with the convention would be politically detrimental as the event would be overshadowed by the increasingly grim developments on the pandemic in Florida, a must-win battleground state for the president.

"He has decided he's losing, and he wants to win,” one of the president’s political advisers said. “No more complicated than that.”

Also looming large in the discussions leading up to the cancellation, officials said, were fresh memories of Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was overshadowed by underwhelming crowds and multiple staffers and Secret Service agents testing positive for the coronavirus.

Trump’s reversal on the convention is part of a broader attempt over the past week to revive his political standing with Americans who have shown in polls they have little confidence in his handling of the pandemic.

Allies of the president are unsure if his new approach will last, given, as one of them said, changes in the Trump’s tone are “always just temporary."

In Charlotte, a dramatically scaled-down number of GOP delegates will attend a meeting to nominate Trump. But otherwise, officials said, events will not be held there. Some delegates who already made travel arrangements are likely to lose money as well.

Kelly O'Donnell contributed.