By Jonathan Lemire and Aamer Madhani | Associated Press
PHOENIX – It was not one of its emblematic manifestations in large stadiums.
But President Donald Trump has brought something closer to the crowd of political supporters he so longed for when hundreds of young conservatives flocked to a megachurch in Phoenix on Tuesday to hear his call to support their reelection effort.
The crowded Dream City Church for Students for Trump gathering offered a completely different feel compared to Trump’s weekend rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the first of the coronavirus era, which drew more attendance. limited.
Trump praised the “patriotic young Americans who defend the United States and refuse to kneel before the radical left.”
“You are the brave warriors who stand in the way of what you want to do and your goals,” he told the bustling crowd. “They hate our history. They hate our values and they hate everything we value as Americans. “
Trump sought to regain momentum from the campaign after Tulsa, which was supposed to be a sign of the nation’s reopening and a show of political strength. Instead, it generated thousands of empty seats and giddy questions about the president’s campaign leadership and his case for another four years in office.
The low turnout sharpened the focus on Trump’s visit to Arizona, which functions as a 2020 battlefield state and a growing coronavirus hot spot.
With the Phoenix event, which was organized by Turning Point Action, a group chaired by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, the president hoped to divert attention, at least momentarily, from his declining poll numbers, increasing coronavirus infections in large expanses of the south and west, and an economy devastated by viruses.
His speech was packed with typical Trump lines: He brags about television ratings, the ridicule of his likely Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden, and pronounced resentments over China’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. As he did in Oklahoma over the weekend, Trump referred to the virus as “kung flu,” a pejorative term that Asian-Americans say is racist.
But unlike his return to the campaign stage before thousands of empty seats in Oklahoma, Trump seemed to revel in the energy of a crowded, albeit smaller, venue. He also offered his followers a dark warning.
“This will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country,” said Trump, who in recent days has intensified claims that further mail voting will lead to electoral fraud. “And we cannot let this happen.”
But during his day trip to Arizona, which included a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed Trump.
The Democrat mayor of Phoenix made it clear that she did not believe Trump’s speech could take place safely in his city, and urged the president to wear a face mask.
But Trump has flatly refused to wear a mask in public, instead turning it into a red versus blue cultural issue. Polls suggest Republicans are much less likely to cover their faces than Democrats despite warnings from health experts that it dramatically reduces the risk of transmitting the virus. Few in the crowd at the Students for Trump event put on masks.
Since late May, Arizona has become one of the most active hot spots in the country for the spread of COVID-19.
Photos of restaurants and bars filled with unmasked patrons sparked controversy. Republican Governor Doug Ducey, a Trump supporter, backed down last week and allowed cities and counties to require people to wear masks in public places. Most have, including Phoenix and Yuma and the counties around them.
Arizona is seeing troubling trends at various benchmarks, including the percentage of tests that test positive for the virus, which is the highest in the nation.
The state reported a new daily record of nearly 3,600 additional cases of coronavirus on Tuesday as Arizona continued to set records for the number of people hospitalized, intensive care and ventilated for COVID-19. The total number of Arizona cases in the pandemic is at least 58,179, with 42 more deaths reported Tuesday, bringing the number of deaths to 1,384.
“Right now, the next two weeks will be critical to our ability to address those surgeries that we are seeing in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s leading infectious disease expert. , he told a House committee on Tuesday. “They are not the only ones who have difficulties. Simply put … it’s a mixed bag. “
Campaign officials emphasized that protests would remain a staple of the president’s reelection strategy, but allowed them to change slightly in certain states. They were debating whether to have them in more modest places or outdoors, perhaps in airplane hangars and amphitheatres, or in smaller cities far from potential protesters.
Trump campaign officials believe Trump’s ability to attract thousands of followers during a pandemic sets up a contrasting image in favor of Democratic rival Joe Biden. Still, the campaign has struggled to find effective lines of attack against Biden.
Before the Students for Trump event, Trump visited the United States-Mexico border, where he tried to attribute the arrest of illegal immigration and the coronavirus to his new wall.
In the blazing summer heat, Trump paused briefly to inspect a new section of the concrete frame and rebar. The President and other officials took a moment to scribble their signatures on the wall.
Arizona health officials have said in recent weeks that the influx of patients with viruses from Mexico has added to the burden on hospitals in the southern part of the state.
“We realize that this is an access point,” Ducey said earlier this week. “We also realize that we have many good, hardworking people who cross the border every day to work in the Arizona industry. We also have many good people who want to take advantage of much of our Arizona health care system, and we want that capacity to be there. ”
Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Jonathan Cooper, Astrid Galvan and Bob Christie in Phoenix and Elana Schor in New York contributed to this report.