Once again, a Louisiana hurricane is crashing Republicans’ national party convention.
In 2008, the GOP scrapped most of the first night of their convention in Minnesota as Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Louisiana. Four years later, Tropical Storm Isaac wiped out the first night of Republicans’ Tampa, Fla., convention, as it skirted the city on the way to a landfall as a hurricane in Louisiana.
Now, one of the 10 strongest hurricanes ever to landfall in the Lower 48 states has come on shore in the hours before President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday.
The extremely dangerous hurricane — along with the fallout of the recent police shooting in Kenosha, Wis., that led to the postponement of NBA playoff games and other pro sports on Wednesday — has thrown up another management hurdle for Trump and his administration, as well as threatening to knock the convention out of the stories leading the nation’s news. But for now, it was business as usual during the third night of President Donald Trump’s nominating convention.
After a brief reference Wednesday night in a prayer from Rabbi Aryeh Spero, the GOP convention largely proceeded as it would have under normal circumstances, until Trump’s daughter-in-law and Vice President Mike Pence both mentioned the hurricane toward the end of the night. Kellyanne Conway, the president’s outgoing White House counselor, wouldn’t officially shut the door on postponing Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday, but a Trump campaign official quickly shot down any suggestion his speech wouldn’t go on as scheduled.
The center of Category-4 Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday morning near Cameron, La., packing maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. Only two other hurricanes this century have struck the continental U.S. with winds of that intensity: Michael in the Florida panhandle in 2018, and Charley along Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2004.
Holding the national party conventions in late August — just weeks shy of the September peak of Atlantic hurricane season — has led to a number of awkward moments for Republicans in recent election cycles.
Back in 2008, Gustav was a Category-2 hurricane when it struck the Louisiana coast. A thousand miles up the Mississippi River, Republicans ditched the first night of their convention in St. Paul, Minn., sensitive to the optics of holding a political celebration while Americans were suffering.
That was an especially acute concern because it came three years after Hurricane Katrina also made landfall in Louisiana. Then-President George W. Bush’s administration came under fire for the federal response to the storm, and the Republican Party was sensitive to avoid a tone-deaf moment.
“Of course, this is a time when we have to do away with our party politics, and we have to act as Americans,” said then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was days away from claiming the party’s presidential nomination at the convention.
In 2012, the approaching Isaac prevented then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Mitt Romney’s running mate, from making it to Tampa until the Tuesday of convention week. But as the storm turned toward Louisiana, some Republicans worried about the ghost of Katrina again.
Trump has faced a greater number of major hurricanes over the past four years, and he has earned mixed reviews for his administration’s responses. Assistance was slow to arrive in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, also a Category-4 storm when it struck that island. More recently, last year’s Hurricane Dorian prompted Trump to brandish a doctored map edited to support his initial assertion that Alabama was in the path of the storm, which only made landfall in the U.S. in Cape Hatteras, N.C.
After the opening prayer of Wednesday’s convention programming, it was nearly two hours before the hurricane was mentioned again, at the end of remarks by Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law. She said, at the end of her speech, “may God bless and protect the Gulf states in the path of the hurricane.”
And Pence, near the outset of his remarks in Baltimore, made the most expansive comments on the storm in his acceptance speech, reportedly the only one that was delivered live on Wednesday night.
“Before I go further, allow me to say a word to the families and communities in the path of Hurricane Laura,” said Pence, in the speech that garnered the greatest media attention. “Our prayers are with you tonight, and our administration is working closely with authorities in the states that will be impacted. FEMA has mobilized resources and supplies for those in harm’s way.
“This is a serious storm, and we urge all those in the affected areas to heed state and local authorities,” Pence continued. “Stay safe and know that we’ll be with you every step of the way — to support, rescue, respond and recover in the days and weeks ahead. That’s what Americans do.”
Even though the storm was not mentioned for large stretches of the convention, it couldn’t have been far from mind for many watching on the cable network that has earned the highest ratings for the GOP convention.
Viewers watching the convention on Fox News Channel saw a “TRACKING LAURA” chyron on the bottom of the screen. As convention speakers addressed the audience at home, viewers saw images that toggled between the storm’s forecast track, an infrared satellite loop and the radar returns from the Gulf Coast.
Laura is expected to move north across Louisiana on Thursday, continuing inland into Arkansas as it weakens.
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.