Trump, Back on Trail, Declares Himself Immune to COVID: ‘I’ll Kiss Everyone in That Audience’
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump burst back onto the campaign trail Monday night, delivering an energetic and combative hourlong speech in Central Florida meant to demonstrate his recovery from COVID-19 and resuscitate his faltering reelection campaign.
Trump portrayed his illness and three days in the hospital this month as a political badge of honor, one that may have given him antibodies to fend off a recurrence.
“The nice part, I went through it,” Trump told a boisterous and tightly packed crowd of hundreds of supporters at the airport in Sanford, Florida, with Air Force One parked beside his platform.
“Now, they say I’m immune, I feel so powerful I’ll walk into that audience … I’ll kiss everyone in that audience.”
He wore no mask, nor did many of his supporters, who stood close to each other and chanted loudly throughout the speech, behavior known to increase the chance of spreading the coronavirus.
Evidence is inconclusive on the duration of immunity for people who have had COVID-19. But Trump was not eager to debate the specifics of the disease, which has killed about 215,000 Americans this year, or its drag on the economy and schools.
Giddy to be back on the road for the first time since he was taken to the hospital Oct. 2, Trump handed out masks to some supporters, promised that a vaccine would soon be available, and briefly mourned the lost lives.
But Trump mostly tried to move past the pandemic. He urged a return to “normal life,” calling on governors to lift health restrictions on businesses even as cases are again surging in many states.
Nine states set seven-day records for coronavirus cases last week, with 45,000 new cases reported each day across the country. New cases also emerged from the White House outbreak, with more than 30 people who either work at the White House or recently visited there testing positive for the coronavirus.
Trump’s doctor, Dr. Sean P. Conley, said Monday that Trump had tested negative for COVID-19 two days in a row. Conley did not say when Trump took the tests or when he last tested negative before he was hospitalized on Oct. 2.
Joe Biden, campaigning hours earlier in Republican territory in Ohio, denounced Trump’s handling of the pandemic — including his infection — as the two launched a three-week sprint to the Nov. 3 election.
“His reckless personal conduct since his diagnosis has been unconscionable,” Biden said at a drive-in rally at an autoworkers’ union hall in Toledo. “The longer Donald Trump is president, the more reckless he seems to get.”
Ohio and Florida are do-or-die states for the president: It is hard to see how Trump can win reelection without Ohio’s 18 Electoral College votes and Florida’s 29.
Biden, by contrast, has multiple paths to an Electoral College majority, even if he loses both states.
His plan to follow Trump into Florida on Tuesday is a bit of muscle-flexing in battleground states by a well-funded campaign that is ahead in most polls — including by narrow margins in Ohio and Florida.
Trump in 2016 won Ohio by eight percentage points and won Florida by less than two points.
Introducing Biden at the union hall, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said the close polls in Ohio are a sign that Trump has not delivered on his 2016 promises to rescue American manufacturing in Toledo and other cities.
“The fact that Ohio is a toss-up is terrible news for President Trump, and it’s great news for Joe Biden,” Kapszukiewicz said, noting that no Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio.
“The fact that Ohio is a coin toss today,” he added, “is an indication of how much support Donald Trump has lost in the last four years.”
Ohio is one of several states where the Trump campaign recently canceled TV ad time it had reserved. Jason Miller, a senior Trump adviser, said this was a sign not of weakness but of confidence that Trump would win there.
“We feel very good about our positioning and the president’s continued strength,” said Miller.
Biden brought his economic message to the Toledo rally and emphasized his working-class roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Speaking as the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first day of confirmation hearings on Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Biden denounced Senate Republicans for rushing the confirmation process while failing to pass a coronavirus relief measure, including aid to states and local governments.
“Why do Republicans have time to hold a hearing on the Supreme Court, instead of providing a significant economic need for localities? I’ll tell you why,” he said, echoing Democrats’ argument that Barrett has criticized past rulings supporting the Affordable Care Act. “It’s about finally getting his wish to wipe out the Affordable Care Act.”
In his speech, Trump delivered his usual grab-bag of attacks on Biden, many exaggerated or false.
“My opponent stands with socialists and communists,” he said, targeting the state’s Cuban American and Venezuelan American residents. “He wants to give everything away to Cuba.”
At another point, he falsely accused Biden of planning to open America’s borders.
“Come on in, everybody, if you’re a murder or a rapist if you’re very, very sick with a disease that can spread all over,” Trump said.
Speaking to reporters before the Biden rally, Trump campaign officials shrugged off the event.
“We are quite happy to see Joe Biden wasting a valuable day on the campaign trail in a state that he won’t win,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said.
“We have this great confidence in Ohio not just because of the president’s record and our ground game but also because of Joe Biden and who he’s been in the last 50 years,” he added.
©2020 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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