North Carolina Republicans are making a last ditch effort to try and win back the marquee event of the Republican National Convention even after President Donald Trump made it abundantly clear he’s moving on from the state.
The attempt amounts to the legislative version of the boombox scene in the 1980’s romcom Say Anything - a grand gesture to keep Trump’s affections in their state. But just like the romance in the film, no one really thinks it’ll work out in the end.
“As far as the convention goes, as much as we want it here, I really don't think it's going to happen no matter what we do,” Mark Brody, North Carolina’s national GOP committeeman told The Daily Beast. “It's not going to happen. Gov. Cooper doesn't want it here.”
In truth, Trump walked away from the convention after Governor Rory Cooper couldn’t promise him a packed arena due to continued concerns over COVID-19 infections in the state. But that has done little to quell the disappointment felt by Republicans who have watched helplessly as the Republican National Committee has gravitated towards other contenders.
A Republican familiar with the situation said the RNC remains in discussion with a handful of cities “eager to host a celebration of the President’s acceptance speech.”
Enter North Carolina’s GOP chairman, who took to Twitter last week to promote legislation from Republican state Rep. John Torbett with the flashy intent of giving Trump the kind of GOP mega event the president clearly envisions in August regardless of public health concerns.
On Tuesday, Torbett told The Daily Beast that details of the bill were still being worked out as he described the president as a businessman rather than a politician.
“I'm trying to salvage the relationship,” Torbett said.
His colleagues were quick to admit they already knew how this effort would end.
“Reality is, we can pass anything we want to but it'll get vetoed by the governor and we don't have the votes to override,” Republican state Rep. Michael Speciale said. “So the governor is going to end up getting his way on this one.”
It’s also unclear how intense the effort is outside of the statehouse. The North Carolina Republican Party did not respond to questions about what it is doing specifically to try and keep the president’s speech in the state.
“I'm resigned to the fact that it's not going to be in Charlotte," said Brody, who also serves as a state representative. "So whoever else gets it, I'm glad for them and I hope it goes well.”
Trump first began threatening to pull the convention from Charlotte on Memorial Day, further escalating the tension a day later as he envisioned a grandiose event for his second nominating convention, regardless of persistent health concerns over the coronavirus.
The president’s tactics enflamed the fears of some businesses in the Charlotte area who had already seen their bottom lines dented by the public health crisis, with one limousine company telling The Daily Beast before Trump made a final decision “it's going to cripple us.”
The ensuing back and forth between the RNC and Cooper’s administration publicly appeared to make little progress with a clear breaking point coming from a letter Cooper, a Democrat, sent last week emphasizing a scaled back event instead of the full convention that Republicans felt they should have during the pandemic.
On Twitter, Trump blamed Cooper for “not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised” as he announced the party would now find another state.
With that in mind, the draft of Torbett’s bill that was promoted on social media last week by the state’s GOP chairman included a clear line to try and win Trump over, saying “capacity events at scheduled events shall be allowed.”
Even then for Torbett, the North Carolina Republican said he expects the president “to do what he thinks is best,” when it comes to the convention.
“That's in his purview, that is above my paygrade," the state lawmaker said. “And so I have to either trust what he's doing is the correct thing or trust that what he's doing is not the correct thing. I choose to trust what he's doing is the correct thing.”
During a press briefing Monday Cooper told reporters that intervention by legislators to guarantee a full arena was “irresponsible."
"What we need to do is to continue our conversations with the RNC,” Cooper said. “But understand that the public health and safety of North Carolinians and everybody at that convention should come first."
Plans still call for the official business of the convention to be held in Charlotte, depending upon Cooper’s actions heading towards August, but Trump’s acceptance of the 2020 GOP nomination remains in search of a home.
Republican governors in Tennessee, Florida and Georgia were quick to make public plays for the kind of health anxiety inducing event the president foresees for his August speech, and the RNC has been clear that they’re going venue shopping even though there is little time to spare.
But Democratic led cities in those GOP states haven’t been shy that the convention is not something they’re eager to see brought to their cities.
That’s far from the case in Jacksonville, where Florida’s governor and the local mayor are both Republicans who have advocated for the state to become the home for Trump’s dream event.
Mayor Lenny Curry said last week that Jacksonville “would be honored to host a world class event like the Republican National Convention.” But this week a spokesperson for the city did not directly respond to questions about what promises are being made to try and woo the Trump campaign and the RNC.
“We don’t have any comments regarding the RNC at this time,” a spokesperson for the city said in an email.
Back in North Carolina, Ada M. Fisher, the Republican national committeewoman for the state, wasn’t ready to completely give up. Despite all the talk about moving the convention, Fisher said she's had no confirmation of what the final convention is going to look like and hasn’t counted Trump out from coming to the state.
She said she’s encouraged the president “through all kinds of channels,” at her disposal but declined to elaborate further.
“One thing that you must know about Donald Trump, and I know Donald Trump, he's going to do what he wants to do,” Fisher said. “So you can push till the cows come home, but if the president has made up his mind, he is going to choose whatever he wants.”