Derek Brown 02

Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown says he was not too surprised that President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Republican National Convention events in Jacksonville set to happen next month.

“Yes and no,” he said during a brief phone conversation on Thursday afternoon after President Trump said he was nixing that part of the convention because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in Florida.

“It was a surprise that the decision came today,” he added. “I’ve been on a lot of conference calls and looking at working with the RNC through some of these tricky issues from a health and safety standpoint. I’ve always wondered if we would end up with a mostly virtual convention like the Democrats are doing, and it looks like at this point that’s what is happening.

Brown says the preparations for the Jacksonville events were extensive as organizers were feverishly working to come up with procedures that would keep attendees safe amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I think they spent a lot of time preparing to do this in a way that balances the safety issues for attendees,” said Brown. “My guess is is what probably happened is the president just kind of looked at all of that and said it’s not worth the risk.”

The Charlotte portion of the convention will go on as planned, but only six members of Utah’s delegation will attend those events in North Carolina. Brown says he expects those Utahns heading to North Carolina will be able to give the party’s nomination to Trump for a second term through some sort of proxy vote.

Earlier, President Trump forced the Republican National Convention to find an alternate site for a large portion of the national convention after the Democratic governor of North Carolina would not lift restrictions on large crowds. After a hastily conducted search, the RNC settled on Jacksonville. Now, that move has been upended by the surge in coronavirus cases in Florida.

President Trump said he would accept the party’s nomination in a “different form” than the previously planned event featuring delegates from around the country. 

“I looked at my team and I said the timing for this event is not right. It’s just not right,” said Trump during a briefing on his administration’s response to the coronavirus at the White Hosue on Thursday. 

“There’s nothing more important in our country than keeping our people safe,” Trump added.

Brown says the decision is ultimately disappointing for him and for the delegates who were elected at the state party’s April convention, but he feels it’s the right thing to do.

“I’ve always had the suspicion that if things continue to get worse, they would probably pull the plug. It sounds that’s exactly what happened,” said Brown. “I had a member of congress tell me the other day they were thinking the convention in Florida was becoming less and less likely in light of the virus.”

Brown joked that the cancellation of the Jacksonville convention was the fourth large event he’s spent time planning and raising money to hold, only to have it canceled due to the coronavirus. The other three were the Utah GOP’s caucus night, the party’s in-person state convention and the original convention planned for North Carolina.