CHARLOTTE — Republicans are ready to formally nominate President Donald Trump for reelection at a convention kickoff in Charlotte that begins a weeklong effort to convince the American people that the president deserves a second term.
Delegates will hold an in-person roll-call vote Monday in a Charlotte Convention Center ballroom before attention turns to prime-time programming. Many of the usual trappings are present — the signs designating each state, the gift bags with Republican swag — but chairs on the ballroom floor have been arranged with lots of space between them and masks are supposed to be worn.
It’s a sharp contrast to the approach of Democrats, who created a roll call via video montage from states across the country to avoid a large-scale gathering last week at their well-received virtual convention.
The GOP convention is a crucial moment for Trump, who is trailing in some national and battleground state polls and under intense pressure to turn the race around. Aides hope the convention will give them a chance to recast the story of Trump’s presidency and shift the campaign’s thrust from a referendum on him to a choice between his vision for America’s future and the one presented by Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“This is a kickoff to many weeks of this heading into Election Day,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday. “I don’t think we’re going to slow down.”
Trump, for his part, said he was hoping to set an optimistic tone.
“I think we’re going to see something that is going to be very uplifting and positive. That’s what I’d like it to be,” he said in an interview that aired Sunday on Fox News Channel.
For both sides, it’s an unconventional convention year.
The parties’ election year gatherings are typically massive events, drawing thousands of delegates, party leaders, donors, journalists and political junkies for a week of speeches, parties and after-parties that inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy and deliver a multiday infomercial for the nominee.
But the coronavirus has changed all that, and 336 delegates — six from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories — have been invited to cast proxy votes on behalf of the more than 2,500 regular delegates. And stringent safety measures have been put in place guided by a 42-page health and safety plan developed by a hired doctor.
Attendees were asked to practice enhanced social distancing and get tested prior to travel, fill out a pre-travel health questionnaire and participate in a daily symptom tracker. They’re also being tested onsite, have been asked to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people and to use face coverings as a condition of participation — though many attendees were seen openly flouting those rules Monday morning. The RNC has also committed to contacting every participant five, 14 and 21 days after the event to check on potential symptoms.
The event had been met with protests, and police have made several arrests.
After the Charlotte kickoff, most of the GOP convention will take place in Washington, D.C., at and around the White House, as well as by video. It will feature remarks from a long list of well-known Trump supporters, including members of the Trump family, conservative firebrands and everyday Americans who campaign officials say have been helped by Trump’s policies.
First lady Melania Trump will speak Tuesday from the Rose Garden, Vice President Mike Pence will appear from Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Wednesday and Trump will deliver his marquee acceptance speech on Thursday from the South Lawn before a crowd of supporters.
Besides the formal nomination roll call, the party will also approve a handful of new resolutions, including one that backs Columbus Day as a federal holiday and one that labels the Southern Poverty Law Center, which catalogs the country’s hate groups, as a “radical organization.” Another bemoans “cancel culture,” warning that it “has grown into erasing of history, encouraging lawlessness, muting citizens, and violating free exchange of ideas, thoughts, and speech.”
But they will not vote on a 2020 platform, after a unanimous vote to forego one this year.
“RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda,” a resolution instead reads, in part.