“He’s wearing a mask and canceling the convention,” said Mark McKinnon, who was in charge of advertising for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004. “That’s a head-snapping reversal for a guy who hates to be wrong, hates to back down and, worst of all, hates to be perceived as weak.”
The canceling of the Florida convention would appear, for now, to also play to the Democrats’ advantage. Mr. Biden and his aides no longer have to worry that his scaled-down virtual acceptance speech would look small and silly next to a full-blown speech by Mr. Trump, as Republicans had once hoped.
And the Democrats cut back their convention methodically and with no drama and little notice, calibrating to the worsening pandemic and to the cautions of medical professionals against large gatherings. By contrast, Mr. Trump and his party stumbled into this decision, a long and messy process that included a last-minute switch of the convention to Florida from North Carolina.
The chaos surrounding the convention planning mirrored the chaos that surrounded decision-making on many issues in the White House, including Covid-19. Mr. Trump announced the cancellation at the start of his Thursday coronavirus briefing, with no real plan about what, if anything, the Republicans would do in its stead.
“The Republicans now have a month to put together a remote convention and the Democrats had a three-month head start,” Ms. Fowler said. ”And they have wasted a lot of money. It sort of reinforces the competence problems that this administration has been dealing with.”
Mr. Trump, who has long been a master of imagery, had been hoping to draw a contrast with Mr. Biden, downplaying the seriousness of the virus as he pushed to open cities, hold big rallies and gather for conventions like the one he wanted in Jacksonville. His stance recalled the long history of Republicans portraying themselves as unbending, resilient and self-sufficient — the purported party of strength. (It also recalled the swagger with which Mr. Trump approached his real estate dealings when he was a developer in New York.)
“The Trump strategy was to campaign as the strong man,” Mr. McKinnon said. While Mr. Biden was hidden “in a mask in a basement he would be stepping maskless into adoring crowds at a packed convention.”