2020 Republican National Convention: Split between 2 cities, Trump to accept nomination from White House

The RNC will be a far more scaled-back affair than initially planned.

August 23, 2020, 3:36 PM

It wasn't long ago that President Donald Trump foresaw accepting the Republican nomination for president for a second time in front of a roaring crowd.

Instead, the Republican National Convention will be a far more scaled-back affair, with an even smaller crowd than what was initially -- and even more recently -- planned for Trump's celebration.

The coronavirus thwarted plans to pack a North Carolina sports arena with red-clad supporters, and left Republicans with a pared-down gathering across two cities that will include a mix of prerecorded content from satellite locations and live speeches at monuments and other federal sites in and around Washington, D.C.

While Charlotte, North Carolina, was expected to hold the full convention this year, after being selected more than two years ago, those plans were abruptly altered by the president. Trump's desire for a boisterous celebration in the middle of a pandemic led to him briefly move his acceptance speech to Jacksonville, Florida, before the coronavirus once again forced those plans to change.

The convention is set to take place over four days -- with Charlotte hosting official business -- culminating in Trump formally accepting the nomination from the White House on Thursday night.

Here's what you need to know about the 2020 RNC:

When and where is the convention

This year's convention, which is set for Aug. 24 to 27, is set across two cities -- Charlotte and Washington, D.C. -- after the coronavirus pandemic caused Trump's hopes for a packed arena to fall by the wayside.

Back in June, Republicans announced they were moving Trump's acceptance speech out of Charlotte amid a standoff with the state's Democratic governor over restrictions placed on hosting a large-scale event in the midst of the coronavirus. But the plan was to keep the official business of the convention, including nominating the president, in Charlotte.

GOP officials settled on Jacksonville before Trump abruptly announced in late July he was canceling that portion of the event due to Florida's surge in cases.

Donald Trump addresses the delegates and celebrates his nomination on the final night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 21, 2016.
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images, FILE

He ultimately settled on hosting his acceptance speech at the White House only recently, with other headliners, such as Vice President Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump, also speaking from in or around the nation's capital. That decision only came after a brief flirtation with speaking at the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Plans for the celebration part of the convention -- including Trump's acceptance speech -- were far from settled just days before the event was set to begin. Details remain in flux and Trump was calling his advisers with recommendations on planning throughout last week, sources said, critiquing aspects of the Democratic National Convention and looking to upstage his rival.

What to expect in Charlotte

The RNC will lead off on Monday morning with official convention business -- formally nominating Trump from the Charlotte Convention Center to be the party's standard-bearer for another four years.

The Charlotte portion of the convention will begin with the presidential nomination and seconding speeches and an in-person roll call among the 336 delegates who are set to gather in North Carolina, according to a Republican familiar with the planning. There were plans in the works for Trump to possibly join delegates in Charlotte on Monday, but those plans were not finalized, according to a Republican source familiar.

For the small gathering of delegates in Charlotte on Monday, each state, territory and the District of Columbia is sending only a six-person delegation.

The roll call, historically a lengthy process in which each state in alphabetical order announces how many delegates will be delivered to each candidate based on primary results, will formally nominate Trump. The president must secure 1,276 delegates to be put over the top. Trump was awarded all but one delegate during the primary season, with that one being allocated to his former challenger, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, according to an ABC News analysis.

Before delegates touch down in Charlotte, the party asked for them to stay at home as much as possible starting on Aug. 6 to minimize any possible exposure to the virus, a Republican familiar with the planning confirmed to ABC News.

In Charlotte, attendees will undergo temperature checks before gaining entry to the venue, and will be given a daily "health-pass bracelet," which will be necessary to participate in the gathering. The party also plans to track movements inside the convention site through badges to help with contact tracing.

Attendees are expected to follow social distancing guidelines inside, and the RNC is enforcing North Carolina's statewide mask mandate, so delegates will have to adorn masks even during the roll call. The organizers are also planning to provide attendees with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and they will have to do check-ins five, 14 and 21 days after the event to trace any possible spread.

The details on Monday's official business and health protocols for Monday were first reported by The New York Times.

The RNC convention account tweeted a photo of the masks and hand sanitizer that will greet delegates upon arrival, writing, "The health and safety of our delegates remains our top priority! Thanks to those who contributed so that our delegates are taken care of upon arrival!"

What to expect in Washington, D.C.

The president, first lady and vice president are set to speak in and around the capital.

Melania Trump will give a speech from the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, about 40 miles from the White House, Pence is expected to deliver remarks from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, which is known as a centerpiece in the War of 1812 and was the site of the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that eventually became "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The entire convention caps off with the president's acceptance speech on Thursday night, which will be followed by fireworks at the Washington Monument, according to plans from the RNC, which submitted an application with the National Park Service earlier this month.

Medical professionals are advising on coronavirus-related protocols for live events, organizers said, but provided no further details.

Who will be speaking

In the lead up to Trump's address, Republicans have plans for a mix of speakers, including GOP leaders such as Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez.

Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., will also appear at the convention, Trump said earlier this month, referring to them as "warrior congressmen."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is set to deliver taped remarks, a campaign spokesperson confirmed to ABC News.

The list for guest speakers also includes Sean Parnell, an Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient who served on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Parnell is running as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House in Pennsylvania's 17th District against incumbent Rep. Conor Lamb.

Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who served almost 22 years in federal prison for a first-time criminal offense, will also be speaking. Johnson was granted a commutation by Trump in 2018 after pleas by Kim Kardashian West and is now a strong advocate for criminal justice reform.

Melania Trump addresses delegates on the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016.
Behar Anthony/Sipa via AP, FILE

"I am honored to share my story at the President's convention," Johnson said in a statement to ABC News. "For those who will be listening, I hope my story reminds us all that true justice must honor and provide mercy for those caught up in the system who deserve a chance at redemption, just like the President provided for me."

Carl and Marsha Mueller, the parents of Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker captured and killed by ISIS, have been scheduled to speak. Her parents, who were also guests of the president at this year's State of the Union, have thanked Trump for ordering the raid that killed Kayla's captor.

Covington Catholic high schooler Nick Sandmann, whose encounter with a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial went viral in 2018, is also scheduled to appear. Sandmann's parents have settled defamation suits this year against CNN and The Washington Post for their coverage of the encounter.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple that went viral earlier this summer after waving their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, are also scheduled to speak. They have since been charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon for the incident during civil rights demonstrations outside their mansion.

Speaker highlights for each night (a full list can be found here):


  • South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott
  • House Republican Whip Steve Scalise
  • Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz
  • Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan
  • Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
  • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel
  • Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones
  • Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA
  • Donald Trump, Jr.
  • Tuesday

  • First lady Melania Trump
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
  • Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds
  • Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez
  • Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron
  • Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
  • Eric Trump
  • Tiffany Trump
  • Wednesday

  • Vice President Mike Pence
  • Second lady Karen Pence
  • Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn
  • Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst
  • South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem
  • Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw
  • New York Rep. Elise Stefanik
  • New York Rep. Lee Zeldin
  • Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell
  • Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president
  • Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to the vice president
  • Madison Cawthorn, Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina
  • Lara Trump
  • Thursday

  • President Donald Trump
  • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
  • Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
  • New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew
  • Ivanka Trump
  • What to watch for

    After 2016 saw a raucous gathering that included scenes of floor fights and controversy, the president will accept the Republican nomination Thursday on different terrain.

    As the incumbent president, Trump will step onto the stage with his party ardently behind him.

    Trump will be featured on each of the four days, including one day to honor doctors, nurses and other workers who are on the coronavirus pandemic front-line, sources said.

    Those plans break with tradition, with the nominee typically only seen on the final night of the convention, although in the past some candidates have made appearances on the eve of their acceptance speech, including Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

    Presidential candidate Donald Trump, Melania Trump, and family take the stage during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016.
    Mark Reinstein/Getty Images, FILE

    The overall theme of the convention, "Honoring the Great American Story," will highlight "the promise and greatness of America" and Trump's "leadership and what he has planned for the future," a Trump campaign official said.

    Each night will also have a sub-theme: "Land of Promise" on Monday, "Land of Opportunity" on Tuesday, "Land of Heroes" on Wednesday and "Land of Greatness" on Thursday.

    "We will hear directly from every day Americans whose stories are filled with hope and patriotism," the campaign official said. "This stands in stark contrast with the doom and gloom picture being painted by career politicians and Hollywood elites at the DNC convention."

    How to watch

    ABC News Live will kick off prime-time coverage each day at 7 p.m. ET on the network's streaming news channel and prime-time coverage will air from 10 to 11 p.m. ET each night of the convention on ABC.

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