North Carolina GOP Party Chair Michael Whatley gave the nominating speech for President Trump inside a ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center.
“And he has put America first by standing up to China, by negotiating treaties like the USMCA and Phase 1 China Trade deal which treat famers and manufacturers fairly,” Whatley said during his speech. “Promises made, promises kept.”
Then a roll call began. The GOP tried to make it as traditional as possible, with states going in alphabetical order to case their delegates. It was interrupted twice – once for a speech by Vice President Mike Pence and again by Trump, who said he wanted to surprise delegates with his appearance.
Trump’s visit to the Convention Center wasn’t on the White House travel schedule.
From the start of his speech – which appeared mostly off-script - he talked about what’s likely going to be a key theme over the next 2 1/2 months: The Democrats are trying to cheat. He made unsubstantiated claims about mail voting and fraud.
As the crowd chanted “Four more years!” Trump egged them on.
“Now if you really want to drive them crazy you say, 12 more years,” he said. “Because we caught them doing some really bad things in 2016, let’s see what happens. We have to be careful because they are trying it again with these 80 million ballots that they are working on.”
He mentioned the 2018 Ninth Congressional District race, in which a political operative working for Republican Mark Harris is accused of illegally collecting mail ballots. Trump said Harris has been treated unfairly.
“They wanted to put a Republican – a fine man – they wanted to put him in jail because he harvested,” Trump said. “Now they’ll want to make harvesting legal all of a sudden.”
The Wake County district attorney is not pressing charges against Harris. But at the start of the pandemic, the North Carolina Democratic Party did propose loosening the rules on mail ballots, to make it easier for people to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s still illegal to harvest mail ballots in North Carolina, but the state board of elections now only requires one witness signature on mail ballots instead of two.
“What they are doing is using COVID to steal an election,” he said. “They are using COVID to defraud the American people, all of our people, of a fair and free election. We can’t do that.”
But at least one pro-Trump organization is mailing people ballot request forms in the state - the very thing the president told delegates is suspect.
Charlotte’s RNC only lasted a half-day. The GOP held two days of national committee meetings at the Westin hotel over the weekend before heading across the street to the Convention Center Monday morning.
To satisfy Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, all 336 delegates and convention staff were tested twice, and the convention’s health director said everyone would be wearing masks.
But during Monday’s meeting, a large number of delegates didn’t wear them. They also left their assigned seats, dancing and crowding the front of the ballroom.
That alarmed Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris, who asked RNC officials to enforce the mask requirement.
Trump took a few shots at Cooper, talking about their standoff earlier this summer over how many people could attend.
“He actually told me this,” Trump said recalling a conversation he had with Cooper. “We had an area that holds 19,000 people. It was totally jammed, sold out. Every hotel was full. And I called him and he said, ‘We have a shutdown going on. And according to the rules and regulations the most people you are allowed to have in that room is 10 people.’ ”
That standoff led the RNC to move most of its convention to Jacksonville, Florida. But rising coronavirus cases there forced the GOP to cancel the Florida portion of its convention.
In talking about the pandemic, Trump portrayed himself as someone who saved lives with his travel ban from China.
At the end of his speech, the president mentioned the lives lost to the pandemic. The U.S. per capita death toll from COVID-19 is approaching that of hard-hit western European counties like Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
“But we can never forget the 175,000 people…which will go up,” he said. “Remember this though: We saved millions though because if I didn’t put the ban on highly infected people from China – that everyone told me not to do – that if we didn’t do that our numbers would be at a level like you wouldn’t believe.”
Charlotte’s part of the convention is now over.
And while the GOP fought with Cooper – and many in the city were reluctant to host – RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel thanked Charlotte Democratic Mayor Vi Lyles for being supportive.