President Trump stormed back onto the campaign trail with a full-throated attack on Joseph R. Biden, challenging the presumed Democratic nominee’s fidelity to black voters and mental fitness for office.
“America should not take lectures on racial justice from Joe Biden, Sleepy Joe, a man who praised … segregationists, shipped millions of black Americans’ jobs overseas and everyone else’s jobs too,” the president said. “Biden is now smearing as racists tens of millions of people like yourselves. Racial justice begins with Joe Biden’s retirement from public life.”
The rally Saturday in Tulsa — the presidents first since the coronavirus crisis put political campaigns on hiatus — also opened new lines of attack for the Biden camp, including saying that Mr. Trump had called to slow coronavirus testing, which Democrats said underscored the president’s self-serving and chaotic leadership.
The rally itself came to embody the 2020 debate, with both sides trading accusations of politicizing the coronavirus crisis.
Trump allies accused Democrats and the news media of applying a double standard for coronavirus social distancing when condemning the rally and glorifying Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
Democrats said Mr. Trump set a bad example by hosting a political rally at this time and also pounced on his claim, which the White House said was tongue-in-cheek, that he had slowed coronavirus testing because it was showing too many cases.
“Donald Trump’s debacle of a rally last night will long be remembered, lest we not forget, the president’s campaign required that folks who were attending his rally sign a waiver so that if I were to get sick the coronavirus, that the campaign would not be held liable,” Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, told “Fox News Sunday.”
Ms. Sanders also pushed back against Mr. Trump’s description of Mr. Biden as holed up in the basement of his home in Delaware and carefully managed by staff who write his speeches and tell him what to say.
Mr. Biden, who has been assailed by the Trump campaign for a pattern of gaffes and rambling non-sequiturs, hasn’t held a press conference in 80 days, though he has done TV interviews.
Mr. Trump said the former vice president isn’t running his campaign.
“People are running his campaign. I see quotes all the time that he said this, he said that about me, and they’re long, beautiful, flowing sentences. I said, Joe didn’t make that statement and Joe doesn’t even know the statement was made,” said Mr. Trump.
Ms. Sanders called it an “unfounded, salacious lie from the president and his campaign that Vice President Biden isn’t up to the challenge.”
“He’s absolutely up to it,” she told Fox News host Chris Wallace. “Vice President Biden would tell you if he were sitting right here that he can’t wait to see Donald Trump on the debate stage and he can’t wait to campaign.”
An uptick in new cases of COVID-19 across the South and Southwest sparked fears of a second wave of the deadly disease in the mostly GOP-run states that were among the first to reopen.
Republican governors in states such as Oklahoma and Florida blamed the higher count of new cases on increased testing, noting that the new cases were younger people who are usually asymptomatic and rarely die from the virus.
Mr. Trump told a less-than-capacity crowd at BOK Arena in Tulsa that testing was “a double-edged sword.”
“We’ve tested now 25 million people. It’s probably 20 million people more than anybody else,” he said. “Here’s the bad part, when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So, I said to my people ‘slow the testing down, please.’ They test and they test.”
Ms. Sanders and other Democrats pounced Sunday, calling that the “most damning thing” from the rally.
“That’s what will be remembered long after last night’s debacle of a rally,” she said. “The admission of the president that he slowed testing for his political benefit, and it’s not for the American people.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the chorus of Democrats slamming Mr. Trump for those words.
“Testing, tracing, treatment and social distancing are the only tools we have to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but President Trump orders his Administration to slow down the testing that saves lives,” the California Democrat said in a statement Sunday. “The American people are owed answers about why President Trump wants less testing when experts say much more is needed.”
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro downplayed the fuss to CNN “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper, saying the president’s remarks at the rally were made in a “light moment.”
“Come on now Jake, you know that was tongue-in-cheek. I know that was tongue-in-cheek,” Mr. Navarro said of the often off-the-cuff president. “Come on, it was a light moment.”
Mr. Navarro said that the president takes the pandemic and the death toll “absolutely seriously.”
Mr. Trump’s critics also relished the less-than-expected turnout for the rally. They said it signaled fading enthusiasm among his base.
There were many empty seats in the upper portion of the 19,000-seat arena, and open space on the floor as well. The campaign canceled plans for Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to address expected overflow crowds outdoors that never materialized.
The president and Trump campaign officials blamed anti-Trump protesters for preventing supporters from getting to the site.
The president and his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, had bragged earlier in the week about more than 1 million people requesting tickets. Mr. Parscale said an auxiliary stage was being built outside the arena so the president and Mr. Pence could address the massive crowd.
Opponents of the president said the campaign had been duped by teenagers across the U.S. who registered for tickets to undermine the president. Steve Schmidt, a collaborator in the “Lincoln Project” of Republican operatives opposing the president, suggested the group was responsible for undermining the rally attendance.
“I’m dead serious when I say this. The teens of America have struck a savage blow against @realDonaldTrump,” tweeted Mr. Schmidt. “All across America teens ordered tickets to this event. The fools on the campaign bragged about a million tickets. lol. @ProjectLincoln.”
The campaign reportedly began among younger fans of Korean pop music and spread to the TikTok application, earning a big thumbs-up from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat.
“Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID,” she wrote at the Trump campaign on Twitter.
At the rally, the president addressed the civil unrest that has roiled the U.S. since the death on May 25 of George Floyd, a black man, as a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck.
Demonstrators have been tearing down statues of historical statues around the country — not only Confederate individuals, but others such as Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrating our monuments, our beautiful monuments, tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control,” said Mr. Trump.
He declared, “We’re not conforming. That’s why we’re here, actually.”
The president said the “cruel campaign of censorship and exclusion violates everything we hold dear as Americans.”
“They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new oppressive regime in its place,” Mr. Trump said of the protesters. “They want to defund and dissolve our police departments. Think of that.”
He said Mr. Biden “will always bow to the angry mob.”
“Joe Biden will always let you down, that’s been his history,” Mr. Trump said. “Biden is a puppet for China … allowing them to rip off America for many years.”
The president proposed a year in prison for anyone who burns the American flag.
“Do you want to bow before the left-wing mob or do you want to stand up tall as Americans?” Mr. Trump said. “We will never kneel to our national anthem, to our great American flag — we will stand proud and stand tall.”
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