Donald Trump said on Monday that he is considering accepting the Republican presidential nomination later this month with a speech at the civil war battlefield of Gettysburg, one of the most hallowed spots in American history.
The move prompted almost instant condemnation from critics. Gettysburg is the site of the bloodiest battle of the US civil war and viewed historically as a turning point for the Union army against the Confederate army defending the slave-owning rebel south. There, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, a speech carved into the walls of his presidential memorial on the Washington Mall.
The prospect of Trump delivering his own speech on the battlefield, after repeatedly defending the use of Confederate symbols and monuments during a period of civil unrest linked to racial justice protests, was met with derision from his critics.
“Trump speaking at Gettysburg?” tweeted Bill Kristol, a Republican critic of Trump. “The good news: 1. The prospect is more ludicrous than sickening. 2. The presumptuousness of the choice of location will backfire. 3. The world will little note, nor long remember what Trump says there.”
Presidential candidates traditionally deliver their remarks on the final night of a weeks-long nominating convention, in front of a raucous crowd of thousands of the party faithful. Plans for this year’s party conventions have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing both candidates to reimagine these events without the usual pomp and circumstance.
Trump said he was mulling two options: Gettysburg and the White House.
“We have narrowed the Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, to be delivered on the final night of the Convention (Thursday), to two locations - The Great Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the White House, Washington, D.C.” Trump wrote on Twitter, regarding his remarks at the Republican national convention on 27 August.
But delivering his speech from the White House would also be highly controversial and possibly against the law. It would mark an unprecedented use of federal property for partisan political purposes. Lawmakers and some nonpartisan ethics organizations have said such a move would potentially violate of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law prohibiting government employees from engaging in political activities while they are on the job.
Trump has rejected the suggestion.
“It is legal,” he said last week. “There is no Hatch Act because it doesn’t pertain to the president.”
While the law might not apply to the president, it could ensnare White House aides working to organize the event.
Throughout his presidency, and increasingly in recent weeks, as he has been unable to hold large-scale rallies that were the cornerstone of his campaign, Trump has been criticized for using the executive trappings of the White House to stage political events and attack his opponent.