Originally, the Republican National Convention was supposed to bring together more than 2,500 delegates — including 155 from Texas — in Charlotte, North Carolina. But, with COVID-19, that’s been scaled back to just six per state or territory.
First-time RNC delegate Desiree Brown, 36, had planned to spend this week at a simultaneous event for delegates in Jacksonville, Fla., cheering on President Donald Trump with fellow Republicans from around the country. But that was also canceled over coronavirus concerns.
Now Brown, who leads the Collin County Young Republicans, is one of the 149 Texas delegates who’ll be watching from home.
“It’s still exciting, but it's definitely disappointing that I'm still just going to be watching it from my living room instead of being there in person,” Brown said. She and her fellow delegates have proxied their voting capabilities to the six Texans who will be attending the convention’s in-person component.
2020 campaign watchers gave the Democrats mostly high marks for their all-virtual event last week. After a seemingly-endless campaign season, the party officially nominated former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris to take on President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in November.
“Part of what any convention needs to do is to bring everybody in the family back together after a contentious primary and caucus season,” said Rebecca Deen, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington. “I think the Democrats achieved that very successfully.”
The digital format, Deen said, may also have helped the Democrats.
But — besides disappointing delegates like Brown — Deen doesn’t think Republicans have anything to lose in conducting some portions IRL. After all, Deen said, both party’s conventions serve different purposes this year.
The Republican Party of Texas posted this video to the state party’s official YouTube channel on Saturday. In it, Texas GOP Chairman Allen West describes safety precautions being put in place against protesters. “You know what's the difference between the Democratic convention and the Republican convention?” asks West. “We have to be sealed in.”
“Conventions are supposed to unify the base, also to introduce the voters to the nominee,” Deen explained. “President Trump doesn't have to unify a base nor does he have to introduce himself to the nation, not only because he's the incumbent president, but also because people have pretty firmly solidified views of the President.”
Brown, for one, describes herself as a Trump supporter since the beginning. She works in the financial services sector, and disapproved of how President Obama and the Democrats handled the economy. As President Obama’s term wound down, Brown hoped a Republican with a business background would step into the ring.
“When Donald Trump started hinting that he wanted to run, late 2014 or early 2015, I immediately jumped on board and backed him,” Brown said. “When he announced he was running for president, that was actually what motivated me to look up and find the Collin County Young Republicans, and I became a member instantly.”
Starting Monday evening, the RNC will feature four nights of speakers echoing Brown’s enthusiasm.
Just two Texans are on the schedule: anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, who once worked for Planned Parenthood, and first-term Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal who now represents Texas’s Houston-area 2nd Congressional District.
“Congressman Crenshaw is a very thoughtful guy,” said Dr. Robin Armstrong, the GOP National Committeeman from Texas, in an interview Sunday, shortly after the official RNC speaker schedule was released. “I also think he'll bring a Texas perspective. We're sort of a ‘Live Free or Die’ kind of state. I think he'll represent us well.”
Last week, Texas Democrats expressed frustration that so few Texans were featured prominently on the DNC stage. Committeeman Armstrong said Texas Republicans don’t share that feeling.
“Our time on the stage is not the most important thing. The RNC has invested a lot of resources in the state of Texas,” said Armstrong. “We're a very, very important state and the Republican National Committee certainly recognizes that and understands that.”
Armstrong hopes, if Texans do watch, they’ll pay more attention to how few politicians are scheduled to speak.
“We really want to tell the story about everyday Americans, and how this President has benefited their lives,” said Armstrong.
Brown is looking forward to watching. The current Collin County resident grew up in Midland, and said she’s especially happy with the energy industry and economy under President Trump. She also thinks Republicans are fortunate to be hosting their convention after the Democrats.
“I hope that the message from all of the Republican speakers stays positive,” Brown said. “The biggest thing that I didn't see out of the DNC was...they just did not talk a whole lot about what Joe Biden will do or what his plans are. It was just constantly what Donald Trump has done negatively.”
As for the battle over Texas’s 38 electoral votes, Trump and Biden are about even in polls of Lone Star State voters. But Armstrong said Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up. A Democrat hasn’t won the state since Jimmy Carter did in 1976. He doesn’t think it will happen this year either.
“We're certainly gonna win the state of Texas by a large margin. But it's important for us to run up the score in the state of Texas and make sure that we win by hopefully double digits this time,” Armstrong explained. “So we could win state house seats, win state Senate seats and win two congressional seats back that we lost in 2018. And so that's our focus.”
While Armstrong said Republicans aren’t scaling back on their effort to keep Texas red, he’s well plugged into the changes they have made to the convention’s Charlotte activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s a practicing doctor of internal medicine in South Texas, and one of the people on site this week.
Armstrong said everyone who will be at the convention will have been tested multiple times. Attendees will also be practicing social distancing, he said, and wearing masks.
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