On the somber occasion of Memorial Day, President Trump delivered a message to Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina: Nice little convention you have planned. Shame if anything happened to it.
The president’s precise wording was only slightly more subtle. The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Charlotte the last week in August, less than three months from now. With the coronavirus still on the prowl, no one knows if it will be possible to hold such a gathering safely or if it might be a poor idea to cram tens of thousands of people into an arena for several days — not to mention turn them loose on the cocktail parties, dinners, breakfasts, panel discussions, policy luncheons, concerts, receptions, protests, counterprotests and other japery that surround these quadrennial spectacles.
But Mr. Trump will not be denied his hours of prime time and his coronation. Grousing that the state’s “Democrat governor,” Roy Cooper, is “still in Shutdown mood,” he demanded in a Monday Twitter thread that Mr. Cooper “guarantee” the festivities could proceed with “full attendance” as originally planned. If not, he threatened, “we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”
Later that day, Vice President Mike Pence went further, floating three possible alternative states — Florida, Texas and Georgia — all “farther along on reopening” and all with Republican governors. He assured the viewers of “Fox & Friends,” “What you’re hearing the president say today is just a very reasonable request of the governor of North Carolina.”
No. What the public is hearing is an ultimatum grounded not in reason but in what serves Mr. Trump’s political ambitions and personal neediness.
Conducting business through coercion is normal practice for this president. Whether hammering out trade deals with other nations or budget deals with Congress, Mr. Trump’s go-to move is to dig in and make threats, some more veiled than others. Just ask Ukraine.
Even a deadly pandemic could not curb this thuggishness. As the nation reeled, the president made snide jokes about withholding aid from (Democratic) governors he deemed insufficiently “grateful” to his administration. His advice to Mr. Pence, who heads the coronavirus task force: “If they don’t treat you right, don’t call.”
Look for the election to supercharge Mr. Trump’s extortionate impulses. Upset by Michigan’s and Nevada’s moves to expand voting-by-mail, Mr. Trump had a Twitter fit last week. Falsely accusing the states of an “illegal” plot to enable mass “voter fraud,” he threated to cut off their federal funding. His tweets on the subject became so unhinged this week that Twitter flagged a couple of them with fact-checks for the first time.
Mr. Trump knows this, as does the rest of the Republican establishment. Even as the president promised that the show will go on, party officials have been quietly discussing scaling back the gathering to make it less like a giant petri dish.
But here’s where the politics get tricky. Any sign that all is not perfect in the land — that America has not completed its “transition to greatness” — runs counter to the White House’s messaging. If the convention is “pared down,” a Republican donor told The Times, “it will show. It needs to be a big show to counter the narrative that we’re headed into a recession.”
Now, nominating conventions are intricate affairs. Moving one at this stage would be a logistical nightmare: Contracts have been signed; deposits have been paid; travel plans have been made.
The state also may hold the key to control of the Senate. Republican Thom Tillis is considered one of the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbents. His race against Democrat Cal Cunningham is among the most closely watched of the cycle and so far one of the most expensive. (In late March, super PACs for both teams pumped a total of $47 million into reservations for fall ads.) Polls vary as to who has the edge, and Mr. Cunningham outraised Mr. Tillis last quarter by 2-to-1.
Mr. Cooper himself is on the ballot in November, and Republicans are eager to deny him a second term. And the state’s senior senator, Republican Richard Burr, is neck-deep in his own drama. He temporarily stepped down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee earlier this month, while the F.B.I. investigates some fishy stock trades he made early in the pandemic.
In other words, the Republican Party really, really doesn’t want to upset the voters of North Carolina — which packing its nominating convention off to another state might do.
This means Mr. Trump needs to line up a scapegoat in case, for whatever reason, the show cannot proceed as promised. Enter Mr. Cooper, who the president has suggested is “playing politics” with the reopening of his state. In his tweets, Mr. Trump repeatedly professed his “love” for North Carolinians and expressed his hope that Mr. Cooper wouldn’t force him to disappoint them: “This is not something I want to do!”
The governor has responded that he is working closely with Republican officials, but he stressed that “North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.”
Real leaders understand that at times they have to put the public good above their own desires. No matter how sweet a party they’ve planned.
Source: NY times