On Monday night, he returned to the election trail with a speech to a crowd of thousands in Sanford, Florida – his first campaign rally since his diagnosis.
Even holding a rally when the coronavirus cases are not yet under control has been criticized by opponents of the president and public health officials. The event was emblematic of his administration’s handling of the pandemic, an approach that has taken Mr. Trump to hospital and infected more than a dozen White House staff in recent weeks.
Florida counted 1,500 new cases of coronavirus and 48 deaths on Monday, before the president’s arrival. Infectious disease experts have warned the state is “ripe for another outbreak.”
But there was little fear among the president’s supporters as they crowded around the empty stage to wait for him, even if they were to sign a waiver that required them to assume “all risks of the exhibition. to COVID-19 ”from the event. Thousands of people spent hours in the hot Florida sun before Mr Trump arrived.
“I think the coronavirus is overkill. I’ve had a lot of friends who have tested positive, they haven’t shown any symptoms, they’ve never been really sick, ”said Brittany Howard, 22.
“It looks like it was just a big old scare. I don’t know if the numbers are real or not. I’ve heard a lot about hospitals that skew the paperwork, they get paid, get government funding if they say it was coronavirus based. “
Campaign volunteers at the entrance to the rally took participants’ temperatures before they entered and encouraged the use of masks. But inside, many have decided to forgo precautions, echoing the president’s rhetoric and lies about the virus.
Patrick McShane, owner of an energy company, said criticism of Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus was no different from any other political attack.
“It’s a political thing. They will do everything in their power to discredit our president because they hate him so much, ”he said.
“I’ve talked to so many doctors, and they’re like, ‘hey, wearing a mask is going to help, but if you’re outside six feet from people, the droplets won’t catch you.’ ‘
In fact, it was an outdoor event at the White House on September 26 that led many senior administration officials to catch the virus. Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s infectious disease leader and a member of Mr Trump’s coronavirus task force, called it a “big-ticket event.”
Speaking on Monday, ahead of Mr Trump’s rally in Florida, Dr Fauci said holding such events “was problematic.”
“We’ve seen that when you have rally situations where there are a lot of people without masks, the data speaks for itself. It happens. And now it’s even more difficult to do it because when you look at what’s going on in the United States, it’s really, really embarrassing, ”he said.
Joe Biden, Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, said the rally in Sanford would bring “reckless behavior, divisive rhetoric and incitement to fear. But what he fails to deliver is just as dangerous: no plan to contract the virus that has taken the lives of more than 15,000 Floridians under control. “
Mr. Trump’s speech did not dwell on the coronavirus. But he addressed his recent infection.
“They say I’m immune. I feel so powerful. I’ll come in, I’ll hug everyone in this audience, ”he said to crowd applause, before praising his administration’s success in battling a virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans – the highest death toll in the world.
“No one has acted as fast as me. In the end, we saved millions of lives. When it first came out if we didn’t do a good job, they predicted 2.2 million people would die. We are at 210,000, ”he said.
Mr. Trump’s rally comes at a time when voters’ opinions about his handling of the pandemic are diminishing. A new YouGov poll released on Monday found voter approval for his handling of the virus had risen from 43% to 40% – with 57% disapproval.
Mr Biden’s lead on who voters said would handle the virus better has doubled to 7 points. Some 53% also said they trusted the administration less on Covid-19 due to the White House outbreak.
Mr Trump went on to promise “a safe vaccine and rapid recovery like no one can believe.” No country has recovered how we have recovered, economically or otherwise. “
He also accused his opponent of being a “big lover of Castro” and claimed to have “brought back NASA”, two clear attempts to consolidate the support of voters in Florida.
This state is a must for the president. Without it, his path to the White House is almost impossible. But poll averages show Mr Biden with a nearly 5-point lead, according to Five thirty-eight.