WASHINGTON – With cheering crowds, inflated and false claims, and inflammatory partisan rhetoric, President Trump has resumed the kind of politics he enjoys most: entertaining his supporters at campaign-style rallies.
Standing in a sunset light in an airport hangar in Winston-Salem, NC Tuesday night, Mr Trump looked and sounded like the political candidate he was in the pre-coronavirus era. His playlist of Village People’s “YMCA” as an inexplicable walk-off song was back.
And it was, too, reviving old obsessions like the “perfect reputation”
It was his last stop on a tour that has so far included appearances at airfields in battlefield states such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, and New Hampshire. The campaign did not announce that it would resume the rallies. It just started planning them.
But Mr. Trump’s penchant for solemn, personal appearances now comes across the topic he likes least: the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic. In Nevada, where the president held rallies in Reno and Las Vegas that weekend, both events were held on Wednesday.
Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority told tenants who rented the hangar there that the event Mr Trump was about to hold on Saturday was in violation of state policy that restrict gatherings to 50 people.
“It has nothing to do with politics,” said Daren Griffin, the president and chief executive of the airport authority. “We would keep our tenants to the same standard, whether it was a Democratic or Republican rally or some other type of gathering.”
Campaign officials said the Las Vegas event had also been canceled.
For months, Mr Trump has been pushing for his signature rallies to be brought back and campaigned, and officials have always assumed they would re-host such events in the last few months leading up to election day, even though virus numbers remain high in much of the country Country.
“People are ready,” said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign. “People are ready to return to a more normal life.”
On Tuesday night, for example, Trump supporters gathered to hear the president speak. Many of them chose not to wear masks or practice social distancing when they said “We! Love! You! “As in the past, they had registered online for tickets and received masks, temperature tests and hand disinfectants to use on site.
The campaign called it a “Great American Comeback” event. Despite North Carolina restrictions that limited outdoor gatherings to 50 people, thousands gathered under the protected banner of political speech and state health officials made no attempt to stop them.
Election workers distributed signs reading “This is a peaceful protest,” an indication of what they believed was a free pass for Black Lives Matter protesters who had rallied in towns across the country the summer after the assassination of George Floyd .
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president’s right to hold rallies.
“People have a first adjustment right if they choose to express their political opinion in the form of a peaceful protest,” she said at a press conference on Wednesday. “If you can march as a whole, you can also appear at a political rally.”
The crowd at the airport is less than the hall events that the president used as the headline. However, officials said setting up the hangar required less lead time for organization and staging was often cheaper.
“That’s better than the arenas, I have to say,” said Trump on Tuesday evening.
“I’m getting off the plane, I’m giving a speech, I’m fucking getting out of here,” he told supporters in Latrobe, PA last week.
A spokesman for Trump’s Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden Jr. said the return of the rallies was in line with the president’s handling of the coronavirus since March.
“This president’s disdain for experts and willful disregard for science has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans from Covid-19,” said TJ Ducklo, a Biden spokesman. “Joe Biden will always put the health and safety of the American people first, and we have countless examples of why that cannot be said for Donald Trump.”
Other Biden officials said they thought the plan to hold rallies would ultimately backfire because “real voters,” including seniors, would be afraid of images of crowds who are not wearing masks or who are socially distant.
Even so, Trump campaign officials said they liked the contrast the rallies created between their campaign and Mr Biden’s. The events showed Mr Trump was surrounded by supporters, which underscored how small and remote Mr Biden’s events felt, officials said, while also sending a message that America is open again – something the president has tried unsuccessfully since March when he announced the country would reopen by Easter.
Trump advisors cited an additional benefit to the return of the campaign event: They helped with “candidate maintenance” by giving the president a vehicle to ventilate.
But the fight with democratic officials for their right to stage the events at all could be helpful for them, said the advisors, which perhaps fueled the complaints of the supporters of the president.
Nevada Trump campaign co-chair Adam Laxalt accused the state’s Democratic governor Steve Sisolak of political retribution despite Mr Sisolak saying his office was not involved in planning or canceling the Trump campaigns.
“This is unprecedented – to cancel an incumbent president’s campaign freeze within 60 days of a major election in a swing state,” Laxalt tweeted. “It’s not over yet!”
In a statement, Murtaugh claimed that “Democrats are trying to prevent President Trump from speaking to voters,” and said the president would still be traveling to Nevada for the scheduled dates. He didn’t say what Mr. Trump would do in place of the rallies.
Other states with restrictions on outdoor gatherings, such as North Carolina, have allowed Trump gatherings despite the violations because they believe they cannot restrict their right to freedom of expression.
In Michigan, where the president is scheduled to hold a hangar rally in Freeland Thursday night, outdoor events are limited to 100 people and attendees must wear masks and maintain a social distance of six feet. Even so, airport officials said they were preparing to see up to 5,000 people appear for the president’s rally in a county with 2,520 cases of coronavirus and 129 deaths.
“With that short notice – we were notified that he was coming in on Saturday morning and we met with the Secret Service over the weekend – it was definitely a challenge,” said James Canders, director of MBS International Airport.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told CNN the event was “very worrying,” but her office has no plans to stop it.
“The governor’s office does not make individual enforcement decisions,” said Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for Ms. Whitmer.
Kathleen Gray reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan and Sydney Ember from Connecticut.