Defiant in the face of slipping opinion polls, and determined to justify his implausible claim of a swift and full recovery from his encounter with Covid-19, Donald Trump returned to public events on Saturday with a brief “law and order” speech from a White House balcony.
In a closely-watched first public appearance at a live event just six days after he left Walter Reed medical center following a three-night stay, the president delivered an 18-minute scripted address to a crowd on the South Lawn. It had been billed as “2,000 invited guests” but in reality a gathering of about 500 mostly young flag-waving supporters, some of whom appeared to be not properly wearing masks.
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Trump was maskless during the speech, during which he appeared to show no lingering signs of coronavirus. But questions about the president’s health are still swirling following the refusal of doctors or aides to reveal when he last tested negative for coronavirus.
Today’s lunchtime in-person event also appeared to counter his government’s own health guidelines over large gatherings and social distancing as the attendees clustered together tightly in front of the balcony and cheered loudly at his remarks.
The campaign-style rally came after another tumultuous week in which Trump lost further ground to his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, and with the 3 November general election little more than three weeks away.
Video: White House spokesman sidesteps question on Trump’s last negative coronavirus test (The Washington Post)
He explored several familiar themes in his speech, attacking Democrats for an agenda he said was “beyond socialism” and promising again that the battle against Covid-19, which has claimed more than 210,000 American lives, was being won.
He also touted, with little evidence, “the fastest economic recovery in history”, and heaped praise on Black and Hispanic voters in an apparent attempt to shore up support from demographic groups that polls suggest he has been making inroads with recently.
“We’re starting very, very big with our rallies and with our everything because we cannot allow our country to become a socialist nation,” he said.
As for coronavirus: “It’s going to disappear, it is disappearing,” he added, pledging that a vaccine was coming in “record time”, and contradicting growing evidence of a new autumn surge of the virus in many states. Twice he referred to Covid-19 as “the China virus”, resurrecting a racist theming of a pandemic that has affected almost every country in the world.
Trump also praised law enforcement, and repeated again his unfounded assertions of “crooked ballots and a rigged election”.
“I think we’re going to swamp them, it’s not going to matter. We’re going to have law enforcement watching,” he said without further explanation.
He made no mention of his health other than to offer at the beginning of the speech that “I’m feeling great”. Nor did he refer to a coronavirus test that he said on Friday he had taken.
In a Friday night interview on Fox News, Trump, who was given a cocktail of antiviral drugs and strong steroids during his hospital stay, insisted he was “medication-free”.
“We pretty much finished, and now we’ll see how things go. But pretty much nothing,” Trump said when Fox medical analyst Dr Marc Siegel asked the president what medications he was still taking.
In the Friday interview, Trump said he had been tested, but gave a vague answer about it. “I haven’t even found out numbers or anything yet,” he said. “But I’ve been retested and I know I’m at either the bottom of the scale or free.”