President Donald Trump on Tuesday dusted off some of the greatest hits from his pre-pandemic rallies, as he revived a staple of his campaign playbook.
Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of cheering supporters near Winston-Salem, N.C., Trump touched on a number of his achievements that used to make regular appearances in his rallies and relaunched old insults of his Democratic challengers. It was among the first in a return of his signature events since taking a hiatus because of the coronavirus.
The president went after “fake news” journalists, accusing them of misrepresenting his words. He insulted former Democratic presidential candidates using familiar nicknames and praised the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. He boasted about killing the ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and the Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. He decried Democrats over “sanctuary cities” and for what he said was the admission of “poorly vetted migrants, including many from jihadist regions of the world.” Trump mentioned the need for a border wall, even reasserting that Mexico was paying for it.
All of these points, and the language he used to make them, could have been quotes from his pre-March rallies. The setting also evoked his earlier rally venues: He spoke to a large crowd sporting Trump apparel with little room for social distancing, and was framed by a chorus of supporters cheering behind him.
Still, signs of the nation’s current crisis showed through at the event. A handful of attendees — including those directly behind him — wore masks, and the event was outdoors at Smith Reynolds Airport in the golden-hour light, rather than in echoing stadiums. But Trump took the changes in stride.
“This is better than the arenas, I have to say,” he said on Tuesday as the crowd chanted “U-S-A” and “We love you! We love you!” Several of the masks carried Make America Great Again messages and slogans.
Trump spoke in North Carolina as polls show a close race in the critical state. He traveled to the Winston-Salem area just after having spoken in Jupiter, Fla., another key state where polls have Trump and his challenger, Joe Biden, running neck and neck.
Trump paused the rallies in the spring as Covid-19 cases started springing up in the U.S. He tried a revamp during his June rally in Tulsa, Okla., but that event, in an enclosed space with a tightly packed crowd, was a major point of criticism as a possible hot spot for contagion. A Tulsa health official even cited it as a likely cause of a spike in cases.
The president has since used official and smaller political events to share his campaign message, even making points that would be more apt at a rally during his White House news briefings. Trump also made an appearance in Latrobe, Pa., earlier this month to blast his Democratic rival before throngs of his supporters.
During his Tuesday event, Trump also sprinkled in a number of references to developments since his hiatus, including a more pointed attack on Biden and criticisms of the anti-racism protests that have sprung up across the country this summer.
Trump mocked the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris, as too leftist, intentionally mispronouncing her first name in a derisive tone (Trump earlier in his remarks correctly pronounced her name, and has done so during some White House news briefings). He brought up Harris’ performance in the primaries as a presidential contender and said that “people don’t like her.”
“Nobody likes her,” Trump said. “She could never be your first woman president. That would be an insult to our country.”
Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, is the first woman of color to be nominated by a major party to the vice presidency.
Trump also repeated his more recent criticisms against Biden as a weak, pro-China candidate. Though his disparaging nicknames for his opponent, including “sleepy Joe,” were not new to the rally stage, his particular focus on Biden’s China record was adapted to the former vice president’s nomination. Trump said Biden had failed to protect American jobs in the decades he’s been in national politics, portraying him as bending to China’s interests.
“If Biden wins, China wins,” Trump said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Biden has increasingly voiced concern over China’s human rights and labor record.
Trump also went after Democrats for pushing mask-wearing and sheltering in place, urging for the country to reopen. He went so far as to allege that Democrats were using those preventative measures as a political tool against him.
“On Nov. 4 every one of those states will be open,” Trump said. “They’re doing it for political reasons.”
Several attendees held signs saying “Peaceful Protest” — a derisive reference to the demonstrations that have broken out in cities around the country. Trump denounced Democratic city officials for allowing large gatherings for protests but restricting smaller gatherings because of the coronavirus.
“They have rules in these Democrat-run states that if you’re campaigning, you can’t have more than five people,” Trump said to loud boos. “They did that for me. If you are going to church, you can’t go to church anymore. You can’t go to church.”
He continued: “But if you are willing to riot … you are allowed to do that because you’re considered a peaceful protester. So we decided to call all of our rallies peaceful protests.”
Trump has repeatedly conflated protesters who have marched against police brutality and racism with rioters and looters — a premise he has used to push for greater federal force in cities. Harris and Biden have both condemned violence in protests while also calling for greater accountability for police.
Trump ended the event to “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People. He used to sign off his pre-pandemic rallies with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones, but the band threatened legal action to stop its use this summer.
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