Trump said he would deliver an acceptance speech in an alternate form, potentially online.
Trump said thousands of his supporters and delegates wanted to attend the events in Florida, but “I just felt it was wrong” to attract them to a virus hot spot. Some of them would have faced quarantine requirements when they returned to their home states from the convention.
“We didn’t want to take any chances,” he added. “We have to be vigilant. We have to be careful, and we have to set an example.”
In recent weeks, Trump aides and allies have encouraged the president to consider calling off the convention, advising him it was not worth going forward with the event if the focus would be on the pandemic. Trump acknowledged that consideration, saying, “I could see the media saying, ‘Oh, this is very unsafe.’”
After a three-month hiatus, Trump has stepped back to the forefront of the government's handling of the virus with regular briefings aiming to stanch an erosion of support in public and private polls that has followed the surge in new virus cases.
Trump said he did not cancel the event at the request of local officials, but the Jacksonville City Council was set to meet Friday to discuss safety concerns around the convention.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who is a former chair of the Florida Republican Party, said he appreciated Trump “putting health and public safety first.”
“I know this was a difficult decision and just demonstrates and reaffirms once again his commitment to Jacksonville, the state of Florida and the people of the United States of America,” he said. “I’m grateful for him and his leadership, and this was the right way to move forward.”
Joe Gruters, current chair of the Florida Republican Party and a state senator from Sarasota, called it a “selfless move that he canceled.”
“Having our home-state candidate was going to be a really big deal for Florida, but listen, he had it right,” Gruters said. “At the end of the day, it’s about safety.”
More than 10,000 people were expected in Jacksonville — already a fraction of the number that would attend a normal convention. Only 336 delegates will be allowed to participate in Charlotte under extraordinary procedures approved last month by the Republican National Committee. The balance of the more than 2,500 delegates will vote by proxy.
Democrats will hold an almost entirely virtual convention Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee using live broadcasts and online streaming, according to party officials. Joe Biden plans to accept the presidential nomination in person, but it remains to be seen whether there will be a significant in-person audience.
Only about 300 people are expected to attend the DNC in Milwaukee.
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Trump’s announcement.