Democrats fear for their convention as Republicans push on

WASHINGTON • Taking their cue from President Donald Trump, Republicans at every level of the party are pushing ahead with plans to put on their national convention this summer and give Mr Trump the kind of coronation he seeks.

Democrats, by contrast, are mired in uncertainty. Access to their convention arena in Milwaukee is contingent on the state of the NBA playoffs - which have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic - and they will not have an undisputed nominee until at least early June, while state parties scramble to rewrite rules governing delegate selection.

Former US vice-president Joe Biden on Wednesday night called for moving the Democratic National Convention from mid-July to August, making him the most prominent member of his party to say the convention must be rescheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

"I doubt whether the Democratic convention is going to be able to be held in mid-July, early July," Mr Biden told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.

"I think it's going to have to move into August."

Both parties are finding every aspect of their national convention planning upended by the coronavirus pandemic, but the Republicans' late-August convention slot - five weeks after the Democratic dates - and their near-unanimity behind Mr Trump have them in far greater alignment than their rivals.

"The bottom line is, the show must go on," said Mr Justin Riemer, the counsel for the Republican National Committee.

"The party is so unified, and that goes all the way down; these processes start sometimes at the precinct level. Everyone is playing from the same sheet of music."

The disparate approaches extend in some cases to the state level, most evident in Texas, where Republicans have moved their state convention to later in the summer, while Democrats last week cancelled their in-person gathering.

Many state Republican leaders acknowledge the threat from the virus and are in the process of weighing whether to move conventions online, but Mr Trump has so far been adamant that the national convention proceed as planned.

And a campaign and party committee that faithfully follow Mr Trump's lead have adopted that party line, with no talk yet of cancelling the event in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Still, so far throughout the pandemic, Mr Trump has taken overly optimistic positions - like his announcement that he wanted to reopen the country for business by Easter - only to have to back down when confronted with reality, often leaving staff members scrambling to react.

Democratic officials have tried tamping down speculation about the increasing likelihood that the national convention will not take place as planned.

Ms Seema Nanda, the party's chief executive, recently urged state chairmen not to speak publicly about that possibility, according to multiple state party leaders who were on the call.

"When the leader of the Republican Party says this is all going to be over by Easter and there's going to be a convention like there always is, that's easier," said Mr Joe Solmonese, chief executive of the Democratic National Convention.

He added: "We are a party that actually has to deliver sobering news to people - like it's not going to be over by Easter and there are no easy answer."

Mr Solmonese, a veteran of liberal politics, said he has six to eight weeks before he must make a "decision of consequence" about holding the convention.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2020, with the headline 'Democrats fear for their convention as Republicans push on'. Print Edition | Subscribe