As President Donald Trump began a packed day of events Friday, he delivered an unusually somber message to seniors — a group he won in 2016 and desperately needs to win back — speaking of the pain and grief inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“My heart breaks for every grieving family that has lost a precious loved one,” Trump said in Fort Myers, Florida, where he also promised the crowd that he would dedicate his life to seniors. “I feel their anguish and I mourn their loss. I feel their pain. I know that the terrible pain that they have gone through, and you lose someone, and it’s nothing to describe what you have to bear. There’s nothing to describe it.”
But it wasn’t long before the President’s surprising shift in tone — one that might have actually helped him win back the many voters he has alienated — was gone, and he had pivoted back to his old tactics at two campaign rallies later in the day.
Nearly two weeks before Election Day, Trump is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by wide margins in national and key swing state polls. But he undercut his own message again on Friday, showing how unwilling he is to stick to any strategy that would broaden his appeal beyond his own base.
There were more than 68,000 new coronavirus cases in the US on Friday — the highest one-day total since late July. But Trump spent the afternoon pushing the fantasy that the virus is receding. “The light at the end of the tunnel is here,” he told the Fort Myers audience, adding that the US is “rounding the turn,” even though all the evidence says otherwise.
“Don’t listen to the cynics and angry partisans and professional pessimists,” the President said, with no hint of irony about his own angry rhetoric and partisanship. “We are Americans and we will prevail. We are prevailing. We are.”
But instead of outlining a plan to curb the spread of the virus, or his agenda for the next four years — though it’s unclear if he has one — he spent most of his day unspooling debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud, Democratic spying and the Bidens.
Slipping into the familiar role of aggrieved victim, Trump overlooked the pressing needs of the nation to define the election as a battle against “big tech” and the press, angered by the fact that both reporters and social media companies have called out the disinformation he spreads, as well as that of his allies.
While minimizing the impact of the pandemic, Trump issued slashing, evidence-free attacks on the Biden family, accusing them of corruption.
“The Biden family is a criminal enterprise,” he claimed in Macon,Georgia, where the crowd chanted “Lock him up!” “Frankly it makes Crooked Hillary Clinton look like an amateur,” Trump added.
Throughout the day he referred to Hunter Biden, one of Biden’s sons, as “a vacuum cleaner” to argue that the younger Biden took advantage of his father’s connections. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. Even Senate Republicans’ probe into the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine, widely regarded as politically motivated, ended in September without uncovering any evidence that Biden abused his powers or changed US policy because of his son’s business ties.
Trump alsogave another wink to his conspiracy-embracing supporters with a shout out to Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s on track to win a US House seat in Georgia and has praised the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon. At a town hall on Thursday night, Trump again refused to disavow the dangerous movement under sharp questioning from NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie.