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Coronavirus won't stop the Republican and Democratic conventions

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled thousands of business, sporting and cultural events into the summer, with some rescheduled for the fall or even next year. But the Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions are likely to take place in August, as scheduled, according to one shrewd political analyst.

On the Yahoo Finance Electionomics podcast, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg explained why it’s crucial for President Trump to accept his party’s presidential nomination in person at the convention in late August. “Having a real convention will be important for him,” Greenberg says. “Trump will push very hard to have a real convention because it would be a real judgment about his presidency if he couldn’t have a convention.”

Trump has been itching to “reopen” the economy, pushing first for businesses to reopen on Easter Sunday, April 12. That’s obviously impossible, with coronavirus infections and deaths still cresting across the country. Trump later extended federal distancing guidance to April 30, and now he talks more broadly about “light at the end of the tunnel.”  

If the outbreak remains so severe by August that neither party can hold a physical convention, that would amount to five months of business shutdowns. The toll on the economy would be so severe that Trump’s reelection would probably be doomed by then. Economists have a hard time predicting when the U.S. economy will start to recover, because it depends on aggressive public health measures including widespread testing for the virus, antibody tests to determine who might be immune and careful plans for limited and safe business re-openings.

[Check out all of our Electionomics podcasts.]

Many forecasts call for a severe slowdown in the second quarter of the year, with a gradual recovery starting in the third quarter. If that pans out, the Republican convention might begin as scheduled on August 24, in Charlotte. Planners may still have to thin attendance, force distancing and abide by the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for reopening.

The Democratic Party has already postponed its convention, which was supposed to start in Milwaukee in mid July. That’s now scheduled to begin August 17, a week before Republicans gather. And if the Republicans hold theirs, the Democrats will essentially have to as well. “We’ll have a lot of pressure on the Democrats to hold their convention,” Greenberg says.

Conventions entail a lot of political theater that isn’t essential to nominating a candidate. Each party could amend its rules to nominate a candidate and conduct other party business without gathering in person. But conventions generate party unity and garner a lot of free publicity, with the nominee typically enjoying a “convention bump” that pushes his or her poll numbers up a couple of points. Trump in particular is a devotee of orchestrated televised events, one reason he’s likely to insist on a convention. And don’t expect to see him wearing a mask.

If the conventions do happen, they’ll probably be dominated by coronavirus anyway. Trump will try to convince voters he’s a strong leader during tough times. Biden will make the case that he’d do better. And voters, by then, will have strong views on whether they’re doing okay under Trump or want somebody else to take charge.  

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.comEncrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.

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