President Donald Trump and Joe Biden are looking for venues to accept their parties’ presidential nominations with the traditional conventions now too much of a health risk during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Trump has suggested he will make his August 27 acceptance speech in the grounds of the White House, despite concerns that using the presidential residence would be an inappropriate setting for such a partisan event.
Mr Biden, meanwhile, scrapped plans to accept the Democratic nomination on August 20 in Milwaukee, where the party has spent more than a year planning a massive convention in Wisconsin, one of the traditionally Democratic states that the president won four years ago at the expense of Hillary Clinton.
Presidential conventions are a staple of American politics and have carried on against national traumas as significant as the Civil War and the Second World War. But the pandemic’s potency is proving to be a tougher obstacle, denying both candidates crucial opportunities to connect with supporters in the final stretch before the November 3 election.
The campaigns are looking for alternative ways to deal with the virus and still reach millions of Americans through television and virtual events.
Long-time convention fans say they will miss the traditional festivities even as they acknowledge public health priorities.
“I was looking forward to going to Milwaukee and having a lot of beer and other snacks,” said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 and served as Democratic National Committee chairwoman in 2016.
But “if you ask a majority of voters, they’d tell you they’re more anxious about when the NFL season starts. … What’s best for the public should be best for the politicians at this point”.
Matt Moore, a former South Carolina Republican chairman, has enjoyed several conventions as unifying efforts following bruising primary battles in states like his. But the general election audience, he said, does not see it the same way.
“As long as they can watch it on Facebook, most voters don’t care if the conventions are in Siberia or Sheboygan,” he said.
Mr Trump originally planned to accept the nomination in Charlotte, North Carolina, the largest city in a critical battleground state. But he sparred with governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, who wouldn’t guarantee the state would lift restrictions on large crowds like the scenes inside a presidential convention arena.
Frustrated, Mr Trump declared he would abandon North Carolina for Republican-run Florida. But then coronavirus cases spiked there and across the Sun Belt, forcing him to retreat again.
In a phone interview with Fox & Friends on Wednesday, Mr Trump said the first night of programming would originate from Charlotte but the rest would be shown from various locations, including potentially the White House.
“I’ll probably do mine live from the White House,” Mr Trump said, but he also said it was not locked in.
Holding such an event at the White House would mark the latest test to both norms and laws prohibiting the use of government property and personnel in campaign activities. Mr Trump himself is exempted from the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of federal employees.
It also does not cover “rooms in the White House or in the residence of the vice president, which are part of the residence area or which are not regularly used solely in the discharge of official duties”.
Still, the event in the White House complex would surely raise ethical and legal concerns, including for staff members who would be involved.
“If for some reason somebody had difficulty with it, I could go someplace else,” Mr Trump said.
“The easiest, least expensive, and I think very beautiful would be live from the White House.”
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Mr Trump continued to defend the idea to reporters during a press briefing late on Wednesday, again citing costs.
“If I use the White House, we save tremendous amounts of money for the government in terms of security, travelling,” he said.
Mr Biden has not been so publicly reluctant to scale back his convention, expressing doubts about a full arena even before Democratic National Committee officials made the move toward a virtual event.
But those who know him say a lost convention still has to rank as a personal disappointment for a man who calls himself a “tactile politician” and who first sought the presidency in 1988.
Mr Biden has been on the convention stage twice as the vice presidential nominee for Barack Obama.
The major parties have always convened every four years, even in 1864 and 1944 during wrenching wars that affected the entire nation.