President Donald Trump's supporters are eager to gather in Florida -- one of the nation's coronavirus hot spots -- for this summer's Republican National Convention.
GOP delegates from Pennsylvania say they're motivated to pack into the 15,000-seat VyStar Veterans Memorial arena in Jacksonville, where Trump is scheduled to speak Aug. 27, after seeing weeks of Black Lives Matter protests in cities nationwide, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“What is the difference between me going to a convention or Gov. [Tom] Wolf marching with hundreds of protesters?” said respiratory therapist Val Biancaniello, one of the state's 88 delegates. “If they have a right to protest, I have the right to celebrate with my fellow patriots and cast my ballot on behalf of the greatest president in our history.”
The Marple Township medical provider has intubated numerous COVID-19 patients, most of them older people with compromised immune systems, but she bristles at criticism she's received for traveling out of state into a potential superspreader event.
“I have absolutely no problem attending,” she said. “I feel like I’m getting attacked for this. I’ve been called a monster because I would like people to gather, and liberals are screaming at me that I want to kill Grandma. It’s completely unfair.”
Epidemiologists believe the risk from coronavirus is much higher inside than outside, and so far cities where the largest protests against police brutality have not experienced spikes in infections, and conservatives have complained they've received special treatment.
“So they can support people’s First Amendment right and view it as an important social responsibility, but I can’t have a BBQ with my friends and family without a list of recommendations and precautions?” Biancaniello said. “And my 10-year-old son can’t play baseball?”
Some Trump supporters are more worried about protesters outside the RNC than the risk of catching the potentially deadly virus inside the arena.
”Every time we went somewhere, I found the oldest, weakest, frailest people, and I walked in with them because I was afraid for their safety,” said health spa owner Jim Worthington, who said Trump delegates traveled around Cleveland in 2016 with armed guards against protesters. “So if something happened, I could help defend them. Who knows what’s going to happen this time — but imagine if it was that bad four years ago.”
“Personally, I feel very uncomfortable with the mask on,” said Josephine Ferro, a 65-year-old delegate from Monroe County. “It hinders breathing. It’s not good for me. But if it’s what makes other people comfortable, I’ll do it.”
The Democratic National Convention will be almost entirely virtual this year, due to the pandemic, but Trump supporters say his in-person speeches represent what they love best about the president.
“The thing President Trump has done that no one before him in the history of the United States has done — he’s made politics fun,” said Erin Elmore, an attorney and political strategist from Philadelphia. “He’s made politics a sport. Going to a Trump rally, it’s more fun than the Super Bowl to tailgate. It’s a great time.”
“The other side wants to say we’re just a bunch of smelly Walmart deplorables who are racist and sexist,” she added. “But the fact is, Trump spoke to people who felt they had never been spoken to before. It had nothing to do with race, creed, ethnicity, gender.”