LAS VEGAS – In open disregard of state regulations and his own administration’s pandemic health guidelines, US President Donald Trump held his first indoor rally since June, announcing to a crowded Nevada crowd, almost without a mask, that the nation was “turning the last corner” to defeat the virus.
Eager to project a sense of normalcy into the footage, Trump absorbed the loud cheers inside a warehouse on Sunday night. Relatively few in the crowd wore masks, with one notable exception: Those in the stands directly behind Trump, whose footage would end up on TV, were mandated to cover their faces.
It hasn’t been since a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was blamed for a wave of coronavirus infections, that he hasn’t gathered supporters inside.
“We are no longer closing the country. A shutdown would destroy the lives and dreams of millions of Americans,” Trump said, before using his incendiary nickname for the coronavirus. “We will overcome the Chinese virus very easily.”
He didn’t mention the death toll from the pandemic – it has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and still kills around 1,000 a day.
The rally in Tulsa, which was its first in three months after the coronavirus hit U.S. shores, was a disaster for the campaign, a debacle that featured a sea of empty seats and an increase in COVID-19 cases, including its own staff. A prominent Trump supporter at the rally, businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain, died of COVID-19 weeks later, though it was not clear if he had contracted the virus in Tulsa.
Recognizing that many supporters weren’t comfortable congregating in a large group indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, the Trump campaign has shifted towards holding small outdoor gatherings, usually on airplane hangers. But these rallies have grown in recent weeks, with little social distancing and few masks.
And on Sunday, they came back inside, in part as a nod to the heat of the Las Vegas area. Temperature checks were carried out on everyone entering the Henderson industrial site and while masks were encouraged, few wore them.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, has limited in-person indoor and outdoor gatherings to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on guidelines to reopen the White House. In a statement released just before the rally began, Sisolak said Trump was “taking reckless and selfish steps that put countless lives at risk here in Nevada.”
“To put it bluntly: he didn’t have the courage to make hard choices,” Sisolak said of Trump’s handling of the virus. “He left that to the governors and the states. Now he has decided that he doesn’t have to obey the laws of our state. As usual, he doesn’t think the rules apply to him.”
The city of Henderson informed Xtreme Manufacturing on Sunday that the event as planned was in direct violation of the governor’s COVID-19 emergency guidelines and that sanctions would follow. The Trump campaign pushed back the restrictions, with the president saying he would support those in attendance “if the governor comes after you.”
“If you can join the tens of thousands of people demonstrating in the streets, gambling in a casino, or torching small businesses in riots, you can peacefully rally under the First Amendment to hear the President of the United States,” said the campaign communications director. Said Tim Murtaugh.
At this point, the campaign has not played out as a choice election between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, but rather as a referendum on the president’s handling of the coronavirus. By far, Americans have disapproved of Trump’s leadership, as the United States has suffered more deaths than any other nation.
Therefore, the president’s campaign believes it needs to change the subject and project the feeling, despite evidence to the contrary, that the pandemic was over and a vaccine was on the horizon. Part of the plan: To create images of normalcy, like the crowded White House lawn for Trump’s convention speech, though it’s unclear whether viewers were reassured or scared.
In a rambling, hour-long speech, Trump reflected on mandatory prison terms for burning a flag, praised various UFC fighters in attendance, and appeared to endorse extrajudicial killings for those targeting police officers. And Trump has unleashed a series of attacks on Biden, calling him a career-tired politician and declaring him “unfit to be president.”
But, Trump ruminated, while complaining about the media coverage: “Maybe he’ll win because they don’t like me, they don’t like my personality.”
The crowd responded with a deafening “We love you” chant.
The rally took place the night before Trump traveled to California to receive a briefing on the devastating wildfires plaguing the region. He has remained largely silent about the fires that have claimed dozens of lives in Oregon and California.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump was aiming for further breakthroughs with Latinos who could prove vital in tightly contested states that could determine the White House race, promoting the economic gains they made before the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Trump has made many inflammatory and derogatory comments about Latinos, his campaign is increasingly convinced that he has won support that could help Florida, Arizona and Nevada, his goal this weekend.
Winning the support of Latinos has been a difficult climb for Trump, whose intransigent immigration policies and sometimes harsh immigrant portrayal have alienated many Hispanics.
In the opening moments of his 2016 campaign, he said many Mexican immigrants were “rapists”. It has drawn criticism for its lukewarm response to a hurricane that ravaged Puerto Rico, its policies to separate children from their families on the U.S.-Mexico border, and its efforts to dismantle an Obama-era program that empowers young people. immigrants living illegally in the country who were brought here as children to stay in the United States
Trump adapted his speech to Latinos on Sunday, noting their low unemployment rate before COVID-19 hit U.S. shores and affirming his anti-abortion stance. He again hammered home his recent push on law and order, saying recent violence in American cities put Latinos at risk. He was scheduled to host a similar event in Arizona on Monday.
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