Declining to keep a low profile during a week in which the former vice president will formally accept the party’s nomination, Trump embarked on a two-state Midwestern tour to put on his own show ahead of the kickoff to Democrats’ big — albeit virtual — convention week, which also began Monday.
“This is the most important election we’ve ever had,” Trump said during his campaign stop at a hangar at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis., as the crowd enthusiastically chanted, “Four more years!” “We’ve got to stop these radical-left maniacs. We’ve got to win this election.”
Trump, despite making unfounded claims for weeks of potential voter fraud regarding mail-in ballots, urged Wisconsin voters to submit “those beautiful absentee ballots” and ensure their vote gets counted. The “only way,” Trump said, that he would lose in November “is if the election is rigged.”
In his three speeches — two were formally billed as campaign remarks — Trump touted a recovering economy that had been pummeled by the pandemic and depicted a dark future of crime-filled mayhem should Biden win this fall. He also played the role of heckler-in-chief ahead of the Democratic convention, mocking Biden’s mental acuity — saying in Wisconsin of the former vice president: “He’s shot. He’s shot.”
Trump vowed to rebuild what he called the “greatest economy in the history of the world” and said the task was “God testing me.” He also unleashed a series of exaggerated or false charges, saying that “no one will be safe in a Biden-run America” and that the presumptive Democratic nominee, as well as his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), are “pro-crime and anti-cop.”
“We achieved record-low unemployment for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, young people, people with diplomas, people without diplomas, college students, crummy students, great students, horrible students, dumb people, liberal people, conservative people,” Trump said in Mankato, Minn.
Trump continued: “Everybody was doing the best they’ve ever done — PhDs from MIT, PhDs from crummy colleges. Everybody was doing the greatest, the best they’ve ever done.”
In Minnesota, Trump also leaned in to the civil unrest that swept across the country this summer, saying he met with small business owners “who were victims of the violence and destruction on the streets of Minneapolis.” He pledged to “save our cities and our suburbs from the future of crime and chaos, corruption and economic collapse that puppet Joe Biden would unleash in America.”
Many members of the crowd that showed up at the first in his series of campaign events across the country this week were not wearing masks and stood in proximity to one another, probably violating social distancing guidelines — although the events were held outside.
At the first of his speeches at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and again throughout the day, Trump ridiculed the Democratic convention organizers for prerecording some of their programming rather than airing the entire event live.
Organizers of the Republican National Convention have not yet announced whether their event next week will include any prerecorded content, but Trump in Oshkosh confirmed that he will deliver his formal nomination speech “live” from the White House on Aug. 27.
“When you hear a speech is taped, it’s like there’s nothing very exciting about it, right?” Trump said in Minneapolis, to laughs from the crowd.
Trump campaign advisers have aimed to make Minnesota competitive this presidential cycle, after he lost the state by 1.5 points to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. And Trump’s victory over Clinton in Wisconsin by less than one percentage point helped shatter the so-called “blue wall” of states in the Midwest and deliver the electoral college to the president four years ago.
But the downcast political environment for Trump and the Republican Party — much of it hinging on the president’s handling of the pandemic, according to public polling — has forced the GOP to play defense in several key states that Trump won in 2016, including Arizona, Ohio and Iowa.
In a Fox News poll of registered voters conducted between July 18 and 20, Trump was down 13 points to Biden in Minnesota, 51 percent to 38 percent. A Marquette Law School survey of likely voters in Wisconsin taken between Aug. 4 and 9 showed Biden with a five-point edge in the state.
Despite those figures, Trump projected confidence in his ability to win the two states he visited Monday. Mike Lindell, the founder and CEO of My Pillow, is Trump’s campaign chairman for Minnesota, and Trump said if he doesn’t win the state with Lindell working on his behalf, “that would be very bad for me.”
Democrats countered Trump’s attempt to upstage their convention buildup with a television ad that slammed the president for his handling of the pandemic, which has now killed more than 165,000 people in the United States. Lily Adams, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said the ad — which ran in the Green Bay, Wis., and D.C. markets — was a “one-day buy given it’s tied to his one-day political stunt in the state.”
“For months, Trump has claimed the virus would disappear and ignored the experts, and his political event in Wisconsin today shows Trump still isn’t taking this seriously,” Adams said.
Though the president touched on a panoply of themes in the usual Trumpian style on Monday, Democrats have zeroed in on his handling of the pandemic, holding in-state calls and events highlighting his administration’s response to the growing pandemic.
“Now, clearly, President Trump did not cause the coronavirus,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said Monday in a call organized by the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “Yet his complete inability to respond to this pandemic brings us to the point of crisis that we are in today.”
Later this week, the president will travel to Iowa, another battleground state that was battered last week by a severe derecho, on Tuesday to meet with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) and highlight the damage wrought by the windstorm, according to the White House. He will then fly ahead to Arizona for a campaign event.
As his pièce de résistance for the week, Trump will deliver remarks in Old Forge, Pa., on Thursday, located just outside of Scranton, Biden’s birthplace.
His day Monday began with a lengthy, meandering interview on “Fox & Friends,” and his campaign stops were sandwiched between a flutter of tweets sent aboard Air Force One that touted the stock market and criticized House Democrats for convening next Monday — the first day of the Republican National Convention — to take up post office issues.
Rather, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called House lawmakers back to Washington for an emergency session on Saturday to vote on legislation on the U.S. Postal Service. A House committee will hear testimony from embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Aug. 24, although a House hearing does not require all members to be back in session.
Trump in Oshkosh repeated his vow to try to win his former home state of New York, which last went for a Republican presidential candidate in 1984, and said he would make a “tiny shot” for California, Illinois, Virginia and New Jersey — solidly blue states that are not likely to be seriously contested this year.
Felicia Sonmez and Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.