President Donald Trump’s insistence that his party still hold an in-person convention this summer—coronavirus be damned—has resulted in a bit of a logistical headache for the Republican Party. While the convention was originally slated to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, state officials’ understandable hesitance to welcome thousands of not-socially distanced attendees during a pandemic spurred the president to announce that the summer event would relocate to a city less concerned with public health guidelines. The current plan now appears to move many of the festivities to Jacksonville, Florida, including the president’s speech accepting the nomination and other high-profile events. But with some official party business still set to take place in North Carolina, GOP officials decided to make the convention’s agenda easier by getting rid of one of the gathering’s main purposes entirely. The executive committee of the Republican National Committee declared that they will simply keep the party’s 2016 platform rather than crafting a new one during the convention—a move that avoids any conflicts arising from having to scale down the platform-writing process, but also manages to create a bunch of new ones in its wake.
The 2016 Republican platform, a wide-ranging 66-page document adopted while President Barack Obama was still in office, outlines a number of extremely conservative views, including opposing gay marriage; covertly condoning conversion therapy for LGBTQ youths; and harshly condemning abortion. Several aspects of the platform, however, have become outdated in the four years since it was written, with references to policy proposals that Trump has since accomplished in office. The platform calls for the U.S. embassy in Israel to move to Jerusalem, for instance, and reaffirms the Mexico City Policy that the Trump administration has reinstated and expanded, which blocks federal funds from going to non-governmental groups that promote abortion. “It’s very sloppy to do it this way,” Jennifer Williams, the first openly transgender GOP delegate at a Republican convention, told Politico.
Even more awkwardly for Republicans, the platform document criticizes the “current president” and “current administration” on more than three dozen occasions—attacks that likely read whole a lot better when Obama was in the Oval Office instead of Trump. While some of these damning mentions are clearly tied to Democratic policies, others paint a more broadly unflattering portrait of Obama-era America that can now inadvertently be used to undermine Trump. “The huge increase in the national debt demanded by and incurred during the current Administration has placed a significant burden on future generations,” the platform states, for instance, before Trump only added to the national debt as president. The platform also declares the “Middle East is more dangerous now than at any time since the Second World War” because of the president’s “impotent grandstanding,” offering an assessment that hasn’t aged well in light of the president’s controversial moves in countries like Iran and Syria. At another point—long before Trump waged war on the major social media networks for being “unfair”—the platform warns that “the survival of the internet as we know it is at risk.” “Its gravest peril originates in the White House,” the platform points out, “the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government.”
The RNC’s decision to point to the existing platform and call it a day upends the Trump team’s existing efforts to revamp the Republican agenda for 2020. Axios reported in May that a small number of Trump campaign officials, led by Jared Kushner, were working to streamline the sprawling document into a “single card that fits in people’s pockets,” creating more of a “mission statement” than an exhaustive detailing of the party’s views. (In an attempt to make the platform slightly more palatable to voters, Kushner was also trying to eliminate “alienating language” like references to gay conversion therapy.) But the conversations to pare down the platform were quickly criticized by Republican activists who wanted the platform to take a more detailed and specific stand. “The bottom line: We cannot afford to think of the platform as something that is just a marketing instrument that you can get and put in your vest pocket on a 5-by-3, 8-by-5 card. You just can’t do it,” conservative activist Ken Blackwell said on Family Research Council president Tony Perkins’ radio show. The private nature of the campaign’s platform discussions also exacerbated concerns that the coronavirus would result in the platform being created behind closed doors without input from the broader Republican base. “Given the quarantine situation, we were concerned that decisions regarding the Platform not be made in proverbial smoke-filled rooms or through secret meetings in Washington, D.C.,” Colleen Holcomb, president of the Phyllis Schlafly-founded Eagle Forum, told Politico.