Wisconsin Republicans poised for a semi-virtual national convention to renominate President Donald Trump

People enter the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on August 22, 2020.

Sue Lynch loves political conventions — the look, the feel and the excitement.

But this week, Lynch, a delegate who is helping represent Wisconsin at her fifth straight Republican National Convention, is poised for something different — a semi-virtual event.

She won’t be in a raucous convention hall. Instead, she’ll be at her home in Kenosha.

“I’m going to be like everyone else and watch it on TV,” Lynch said. “I’ll also have my computer going. They’re going to be doing some Zoom meetings and other things throughout the week. My house will look like a mini-TV studio.”

Coming just days after Democrats concluded their virtual event from Milwaukee and across America, Republicans will gather live and online Monday through Thursday.

The main business of renominating the president comes Monday in Charlotte, N.C., with night-time speeches through the week, mainly from Washington, D.C.

Vice President Mike Pence is due to address delegates Wednesday from Fort McHenry in Baltimore. And the president will formally accept his nomination Thursday night from the south lawn of the White House.

Both parties dramatically altered their events because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats got a head start, moving toward a virtual convention far earlier than Republicans.

Initially, Republicans were set to convene in Charlotte and then tried to move most of the big events to Jacksonville, Florida.

A month ago, Republicans shifted again as Trump halted planning for Jacksonville.

In Charlotte, 336 delegates gathered over the weekend in preparation for Monday’s renomination of Trump and Pence.

Andrew Hitt

Wisconsin sent four delegates, led by Andrew Hitt, who chairs the state Republican Party.

The Wisconsin delegation includes RNC Committee members Tom Schreibel, Mary Buestrin and Charlotte Rassmussen, who is on the RNC credentialing committee.

During Monday’s roll call, Hitt said a proxy system will be used so that the votes of those delegates who aren’t traveling are tabulated.

“I’ll cast the votes for the folks who are not here,” he said. “I’ll do the votes for Wisconsin.”

Hitt said Wisconsin Republicans are preparing a series of local events convention week, with nightly Zoom calls and in-person gatherings at more than 30 party offices across the state.

On the convention’s closing night, the 54 delegates and alternates will gather for a party in Waukesha County.

Hitt said he detected a “negative tone” in the Democratic convention, with “a lot of complaining about the president.”

Republicans, he said, are planning to lay out their vision for America.

“Here is America and a celebration of America, as opposed to the Democrats saying the country is in a really bad place and the country is in trouble,” Hitt said.

Former Congressman Sean Duffy and his wife, Rachel Campos Duffy, are both delegates and will be watching events from northern Wisconsin.

“This is completely different for all of us,” Duffy said.

He said Republicans will try to “learn from the mistakes” of the Democratic convention, adding that he thought the first two or three nights of that event “were … pretty boring.”

“How do we get a more convention-like feel for our convention? It’s hard but we’re going to try to do more of a convention feel as opposed to a Zoom call feel the Democrats had,” he said.

Duffy said Republicans would have “less Hollywood star power and more real American, real story power.”

Two Wisconsinites are among those who will have night-time speaking roles, John Peterson, owner and chief executive of Schuette Metals in Rothschild, and Debbie Flood, president of Melron Corporation in Schofield.

Duffy said, “The president having four nights of engagement with the American people with his big speech on the last night is actually the right thing to do. It’s more time to talk directly with the American people to talk about your mission, your priorities, where you want to take the country.”

Lynch and other delegates who didn’t make the trip to Charlotte are still looking forward to the convention.

A former president of the National Federation of Republican Women, Lynch recalled in 2012, sitting near the front of the arena as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan accepted their nominations in Tampa, Florida.

Lynch said she’ll miss connecting with old friends. Yet she’s excited about how the convention is shaping up.

Lynch said she has spoken with people who are at the Republican National Committee meetings in Charlotte and “all of them are saying the virtual presentation will be exceptional. They’re talking about lifting the spirit of the American people through the virtual speakers that they have.”

Patty Reimann, a delegate from Milwaukee County, said the convention will have “a little of everything,” with live and virtual elements.

“But this way, I think I have a feeling it’s more of the people’s convention,” she said. “We’ll have more Wisconsinites involved and watching it.”

One of the aims of the convention is to energize the party’s activists, she said.

“We’ll have the ground game in Wisconsin up and running with the grassroots army,” she said.

With both conventions having to be refashioned because of COVID-19, people are paying great attention to how the entire institution is changing.

“I don’t know where conventions go completely after this,” Hitt said. “I think we have seen some benefits, some of the things that have come out of this. I suspect you’ll see some virtual aspects of the convention in the future, where people outside the traditional venue will have a chance to be part of it.”

Robert Spindell, who first served as a GOP delegate in 1996 and long before that went to Republican conventions with his father, said nothing can really replace the in-person experience.

But he’s ready for this new version. He’ll watch from home but also make sure to be with volunteers at party offices.

A longtime Republican activist, Spindell recently cast the lone vote on the state Elections Commission to keep rapper Kanye West on the presidential ballot in Wisconsin.

“The excitement you see and the excitement experienced by the delegates, hopefully that excitement is taken home to their particular town and city,” he said. “I don’t think the virtual convention will take the place of the in-person convention.”