Charlotte’s done this political convention thing before, and not too long ago — 2012 with the Democrats. So some things — more traffic, protesters in the streets, all the media attention — will look and feel the same when the Republican National Convention comes to town in 2020.
But there will be differences. The novelty has worn off. And in just six years, the city and the country have changed. America is more polarized and the prospect of hosting a convention starring Donald Trump is deeply unpopular with many in an increasingly Democratic Charlotte.
There were high-fives all around last time, when the Democrats announced they were coming to Charlotte. But this time, after hearing from 100 speakers on both sides, the predominantly Democratic City Council narrowly voted this week to support the GOP convention.
Here, then, are seven ways RNC 2020 may be the same — and different — from DNC 2012.
1. THE PARTY
Same: They don’t call them political parties for nothing. When Democrats got to Charlotte in 2012, they mostly wanted to don campaign buttons, hit every reception in town, cheer till they were hoarse and, of course, re-nominate President Barack Obama for a second term. In 2020, it’ll be the Republicans’ turn to celebrate as they gather in the same uptown arena to officially launch President Donald Trump’s re-election bid*. The 2012 signs in Time Warner Arena read “Yes we can — again!” In 2020, imagine a sea of red hats in what is now Spectrum Center, each of them spelling out something like “Make America Even Greater!”
Different: Trump’s path to re-nomination looks free and clear right now — after all, he has a 90 percent favorable rating within the GOP. But special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe remains a giant question mark. Hence the asterisk above. If Mueller turns up hard-to-deny evidence against Trump, the president could face impeachment. Or at least a credible primary challenge.
2. THE PROTESTS
Same: Whenever the leader of the free world visits your town, you can expect security on steroids. That’s the way it was in Charlotte in 2012 — and will be again in 2020. Look for thousands of on-duty law enforcement officers — Secret Service, FBI, and police from Charlotte and a host of other city and state forces helping out. And a heavily guarded perimeter around Spectrum Center will be closed off to anybody without a specific credential. That usually means protesters can’t get anywhere near the partisan action.
Different: Some predicted that violent protests would greet Trump and the Republicans during the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland. It didn’t really happen. The most raucous group in town that year might have been the delegates themselves, who chanted “Lock Her Up” from the floor (“Her” was Democrat Hillary Clinton). There is some evidence that 2020 could bring more protesters per square foot to Charlotte’s streets than at any convention since the one in Chicago in 1968, when hippies and police clashed before cameras. During President Trump’s time in the White House, protesters have turned out in massive numbers to oppose everything from his immigration policies to his stand on women’s issues to his plan to ban refugees from some Muslim-majority countries. We’ve also seen the re-emergence of violent fringe groups: neo-Nazis on the right and the antifa on the left.
3. THE CELEBRITIES
Same: Part of the fun of living in a convention city is all the celebrity sightings. A sampling from the Democrats’ shindig in 2012: Ashley Judd, Common, James Taylor, Alfre Woodard, Jeff Bridges, Arianna Huffington, Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington, Mary J. Blige, America Ferrera and Wayne Knight, better known as Newman on “Seinfeld.” Republicans have politically-attuned celebrities, too. They’re just not the same ones.
Different: In 2020, you might just get selfies on Tryon Street with such famous fans of Trump as Sylvester “Rocky” Stallone, Jon Voight, Ted Nugent, Roseanne Barr, Hulk Hogan, Don King, Scott Baio, Loretta Lynn, Bobby Knight, Tim Allen and new NRA President Oliver North.
4. THE MEDIA
Same: About 15,000 members of the press covered the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. At least that many will be back for the GOP soiree. As before, the networks and cable channels will dress up skybox suites in Spectrum Center for their anchors, while their reporters hunt for interviews on the floor. But in 2012 the bigger media buzz was outside the arena. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” set up shop nightly at ImaginOn. And MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough did his early-a.m. talkfest from uptown’s EpiCentre.
Different: In 2020, with the Republicans running the show, the star media attraction will almost certainly be Fox News. Its stable of stars will get the latest news tips and the biggest names for interviews. “Fox & Friends” could do their morning show from, say, the NASCAR Hall of Fame. POTUS, meanwhile, will be the king of social media during convention week: Every delegate and every reporter will start their day by checking in on Trump’s latest tweets. What nickname will he give Charlotte?
5. THE CITY
Same: Charlotte will again be in the national — make that international — spotlight as the city becomes, for a week, the center of the political and media universe. In 2012, we were like the rising star making its big debut. Delegates from all over complimented our Southern hospitality and our skyscrapers and our oh-so-walkable uptown. Yes, there were complaints about bedbugs at some of the hotels, but Charlotte mostly shined as a welcoming can-do city.
Different: The image of Charlotte that wowed ‘em in 2012 took a beating a few years later. First, there was the national study in which Charlotte finished dead last — 50th of the 50 largest cities — in economic mobility. Then, in 2016, the city made the national news again — this time for riots sparked by the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. In 2020, out-of-town reporters may not be so wide-eyed when they do their stories on Charlotte. The gleaming uptown/downtown will still get a mention, but so will the city’s poverty problem.
6. THE MONEY
Same: When the Democrats were in Charlotte, they attended about 1,200 events at local venues and attractions. They spent $20.9 million on hotels, $5.7 million on food and drink, and $5.3 million on ground transportation. Republicans have fewer delegates at their conventions — 2,472 in 2016, compared to the Democrats’ 4,763. Still, they also will spend millions in Charlotte in 2020.
Different: Some of the venues might be different with Republicans setting up the events. Receptions at the Billy Graham Library, the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Trump National Golf Course in Mooresville could prove popular. But in a Charlotte that’s grown increasingly diverse, Democratic and anti-Trump, some venues may take a pass on convention business to register their opposition to the president’s record on Charlottesville, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Supreme Court and separating immigrant children from their parents.
7. THE POLITICS
Same: In 2012, North Carolina was chosen to host Obama’s second convention partly because it was a Democratic-blue city in a battleground state. North Carolina will still be a purple state in 2020. And like the Democrats, the Republicans will want to show off their Carolinas contingent by giving them time on stage and, in some cases, holding election-year fundraisers to build up their war chests.
Different: The welcoming chores in 2012 were handled by then-Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat who was later rewarded with a post in Obama’s Cabinet. The current mayor, Democrat Vi Lyles, spent political capital lobbying for the GOP convention, but also announced she would not address the delegates. With so few Republican officeholders in Charlotte, the spotlight might shift to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who is at least from Mecklenburg County. He’s also up for re-election in 2020. Others from the Carolinas who might get some national TV time at the convention: Trump Budget Chief Mick Mulvaney, who grew up in Charlotte and was later elected to Congress from South Carolina; S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, a Trump favorite; and evangelist Franklin Graham, a Trump supporter.