The decision has been made. President Trump will accept the Republican nomination at the White House. The RNC and the Trump campaign have scrambled to put together some version of a convention this year while the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Now it looks like the president will remain at the White House and deliver his nomination speech at the White House.
The subject of where the best place would be for Trump to accept the nomination has been circulating since earlier this summer when it became clear that a real convention wasn’t going to happen. The president floated some possibilities, including Gettsyburg, along with the White House. Critics quickly jumped in to say that the White House was a bad idea, possibly an illegal idea. Lawmakers weighed in and others, like the former spokesman for Trump’s inaugural committee. A visit to Gettysburg has been put on the back burner. Trump says he’ll visit “at a later date”.
President Trump cites the available space for an outdoor event that would allow social distancing as well as give him a crowd of supporters to cheer him on. He’s comfortable there.
“I’ll probably be giving my speech at the White House because it is a great place. It’s a place that makes me feel good, it makes the country feel good,” Trump told the Post, saying it would also be easiest for law enforcement and the Secret Service.
“We’d do it possibly outside on one of the lawns, we have various lawns, so we could have it outside in terms of the China virus,” he continued, referring to social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We could have quite a group of people. It’s very big, a very big lawn. We could have a big group of people,” he said when asked if he’d formally accept the Republican nomination for president with a crowd of supporters.
I admit that when Trump first mentioned the White House as a possible venue I rolled my eyes. It sounded more like a stunt than humbly accepting the GOP’s nomination for its presidential candidate. I’m more of a stickler for tradition. Also, it’s hard to think about it without remembering that the White House is The People’s House – not just the sitting president’s residence. But, as the idea settled in, I have come around to thinking it may be a perfect choice. In fact, the decision may end up being a good choice for the optics of the re-election campaign.
Think about it – in normal times, the choice of using the White House or not would not have to be made because we would be working with a template put into place years ago for political conventions. A big stadium or arena or convention center would provide enough seats for all the party delegates from across the country. All the pomp and circumstance would be on display. It’s political theatre. It also allows the presidential candidate to be seen on primetime television accepting the nomination with the background of cheering supporters. This is 2020, though, and nothing is normal. There are no regular conventions. Democrats and Republicans have to wing it.
We know that Joe Biden is going to accept his nomination at home, from his basement recording studio, probably with Dr. Jill next to him to make sure he stays focused on the teleprompter. So, it makes sense that Trump remains at home, so to speak, and accept his party’s nomination there. Biden likes to pretend that his campaign keeps him in the basement to honor the guidance by the medical professionals about mitigating the coronavirus. Trump is just doing the same thing, right? He’s keeping people safe and holding a smaller event outside where social distancing will be easy and yet he still gets the optic of having a crowd.
Is this legal? Yes, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, is the chairwoman of the House Oversight and reform Committee, requested an advisory opinion concerning the Hatch Act. (The Hatch Act is a federal law that prohibits political activity by executive branch employees.) The president and the vice-president are not subject to the Hatch Act prohibitions.
The guidance from the agency came in an advisory opinion issued in response to a request from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, concerning the Hatch Act, a federal law that governs the political activity of executive branch employees. The Office of Special Counsel is an independent agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act and other laws concerning federal employees.
“The president and the vice president are not covered by any provisions of the Hatch Act,” Erica Hamrick, deputy chief of the office’s Hatch Act Unit, told Maloney in a letter Wednesday. “Accordingly, the Hatch Act does not prohibit President Trump from delivering his RNC acceptance speech on White House grounds.”
There are boundaries for White House employees, though, and they will have to adhere to them. The boundaries are already in place, however, as it is the same for any president who runs for re-election. White House employees have to remain separate from campaign staff and activities.
While Hamrick said Mr. Trump would be cleared to deliver his address accepting the Republican nomination from the White House, she noted the Hatch Act does cover White House employees, so there could be implications for Mr. Trump’s aides depending on their level of involvement with the speech and their role with the administration.
White House employees, for example, could not assist with the convention event while on duty or in a federal room or building, according to the advisory opinion. They also would be barred from attending the event while on duty.
That leaves us with the contrast between the two candidates and their acceptance speeches. Which is better for optics – Joe Biden’s basement or a lovely summer day or evening on the grounds of the White House with a cheering crowd? Conventions are all about showmanship and in this case, there is no comparison. Let Trump be Trump. As long as he stays on the teleprompter and sticks to the prepared speech, the decision to do it at the White House will probably turn out to be a good choice.