The Slatest

Jacksonville Sheriff Says “Past the Point of No Return” on Safely Hosting RNC

Crowd of attendees on the convention floor holding up pro-Trump signs
The Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican Party is still planning on bringing together thousands of its party members to try to salvage some semblance of a national convention next month. The Republican National Convention was scheduled to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, but after the state’s Democratic governor imposed safety-minded restrictions on the mass gathering, the GOP decamped to Florida, moving many of the highest-profile, public-facing events to Jacksonville. On Monday, however, a little over a month until the convention is set to kick off, Florida is drowning in new cases of the coronavirus, and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said safely hosting the event as constituted is no longer an option. In a briefing with reporters Monday, the Republican sheriff said his office was “past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security that is our obligation.”

“The overarching concern is the timetable,” Williams said. “The bits and pieces I have in front of me today is not something I can support.” Williams said his department’s responsibility is “what’s happening outside the fence” of the convention, but given the late changes and uncertainty, he still had not signed any contracts that would create the infrastructure necessary to provide security at such a large, high-profile event. “Any plan requires finances and resources. I don’t have what I need to keep our community safe, “Williams said. “I don’t know where we go from here. … I just know what I have in front of me isn’t going to work.”

An RNC spokesperson released a statement in response to Williams’ concerns about the viability of the convention, saying, “Jacksonville has accommodated upwards of 70,000 people for football games and other events, and we are confident in state, local and federal officials to be able to ensure a safe event for our attendees.” That’s obviously specious, given this isn’t an ordinary football game and it’s not an ordinary time.

Democrats have downsized their convention in Milwaukee to almost nothing. As with the RNC, the nature of the event is still evolving, but is now expected to involve just several hundred people, down from the sprawling 50,000-person party coronation of Joe Biden. The RNC has similarly curtailed its previous ambitions, but is still planning on indoor and outdoor events involving thousands of participants. “Attendance will be limited to the 2,500 regular RNC delegates for the first three days of the convention,” CNN reports, “with delegates allowed to bring one guest and alternate delegates also allowed to attend, capping total attendance at about 7,000 people.” The parties’ differing approaches to their upcoming conventions is due, in part, to the current state of the polls. Then there’s also President Donald Trump’s psychological need to have an adoring crowd. That may be hard to pull off given the circumstances, but it appears that he and his party are going to give it a shot, no matter the consequences, because they badly need to generate some semblance of enthusiasm for his candidacy as poll after poll shows him trailing Biden by double digits.

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