President Donald Trump exits Air Force One as he arrives at Tulsa International Airport on Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Donald Trump
President Donald Trump exits Air Force One as he arrives at Tulsa International Airport on Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It really seems that Republicans are afraid to have journalists interview the delegates to their own convention” says one New Yorker reporter.

In a move unprecedented in modern times, the Republican National Committee announced Saturday that it will bar the press from attending the party’s nomination of President Donald Trump in Charlotte on August 27.

According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, which broke the story over the weekend, journalists will not be present when Trump is re-nominated, and reporters will be forbidden to enter the room where the RNC will conduct party business.

If the RNC sticks to their initial announcement from Saturday, this will be the first Republican presidential nominating convention in history where reporters are not admitted. Media outlets expressed dismay that they would be locked out of the proceedings.

“It’s certainly something that the press will protest greatly,” New Yorker reporter and CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser told CNN Saturday. “The lack of transparency on such a significant event — it really seems that Republicans are afraid to have journalists interview the delegates to their own convention.”

“This is an ill-advised decision that the @GOPconvention should reconsider,” the Associated Press’ White House reporter, Zeke Miller, posted on Twitter. “The nomination of a major party presidential candidate is very much the business of the American people.”

“[W]e are planning for all of the Charlotte activities to be closed press: Friday, August 21 – Monday, 24th, given the health restrictions and limitations in place in the state,” a convention spokesperson said in an email to the Arkansas paper. “We are working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events.”

Still up in the air?

Then, one day after the party spokesman announced a closed convention, another representative for the RNC said that the decision over whether the press will be allowed to attend was still up in the air.

“No final decision has been made and we are still working through logistics and press coverage options,” RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens told CNN Sunday. He then repeated the party line about adhering to local occupancy limits as laid out in Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to reopen North Carolina’s economy.

The number of Republican delegates coming to Charlotte has been lowered from 2,500 to 336, The Guardian reported. North Carolina currently has set an official limit of 10 people for indoor gatherings and 25 people outdoors.

It’s unclear how the party will comply with the state’s restrictions, which have been a longstanding point of contention between Republicans and the state’s Democratic governor.

The possible opening up of the closed convention was yet another last-minute hairpin turn in the zigzagging course followed by the GOP’s convention.

Last May, Trump reportedly sought a guarantee from Cooper that a full convention with no face masks and no social distancing would take place in Charlotte. As Cardinal & Pine reported, the governor indicated there was room for compromise. “But we are not going to sacrifice the health and safety of North Carolinians,” Cooper said.

The governor asked the RNC to present convention plans that factored in the pandemic. The committee reportedly never submitted those plans.

After Trump balked on North Carolina’s social distancing measures and restricted crowd sizes, the RNC moved the convention to Jacksonville, Fla. in June, while agreeing to leave some business aspects of the gathering in Charlotte.

But later that month, Trump abruptly canceled the public components of the Jacksonville convention, citing surging COVID-19 cases. He then announced that he would be accepting his party’s nomination back in Charlotte.  

Planning for the Democratic National Convention, a mostly virtual event anchored in Wisconsin, has been a considerably less dramatic affair. Although Democrats are making various caucus meetings open to the public, the more publicized portion of the convention will be broadcast over two hour spans on each of the four nights of the convention from Aug. 17 to 20. 

Meanwhile, the president’s efforts to adhere to a traditional convention, where a wall-to-wall media blitz promises messaging opportunities and a post-gathering bounce in the polls, his August convention will be a stripped-down affair too.

According to Poynter, Trump is not expected to give an acceptance speech in Charlotte. Instead he will simply thank delegates privately. In any event, many of the state delegations are expected to stay home because of COVID-19.

Ahrens suggested on CNN that livestream press coverage of the convention might be an option  for reporters, but he stressed that the logistics of the scaled-back convention remain in flux.

CNN Chief Anchor Wolf Blitzer noted that this latest pronouncement from the Trump-era Republican party had come on the heels of the president’s suggestion that the nation postpone the 2020 national election, and that like many of Trump’s trial balloons, it would be walked back.

“Whoever made this ridiculous idea is going to have to back out of this soon,” Blitzer said on-air Sunday. “This is the United States of America, where we have a free press.”