Amid concerns over coronavirus, Trump turns to ‘tele-rallies’ to drive support

President Trump held his first “tele-rallies” over the weekend, signaling a shift in campaigning as the coronavirus pandemic has rendered his signature large gatherings impractical.

Trump held virtual rallies targeted at supporters in Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina across three days, speaking over the phone for roughly 25 minutes in each case. The events were broadcast live on Facebook as the president attempts to reach voters in new ways while in-person campaigning is put on hold.

The president has pushed for a return to normalcy across the country even as the United States recently recorded more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases in one day. But with his shift to virtual campaign events, Trump acknowledged that the rallies were not feasible as many Americans remain cautious about venturing out into large crowds.

“I’d love to be there for a rally. We loved our rallies in Arizona and every place else. And until the COVID is gone it’s a little bit tough. And frankly some of the Democrat governors make it impossible to do a rally anyway,” Trump said in the virtual call for Arizona, a state with a Republican governor that has been among the hardest hit by the virus.

“So we’re doing the tele-town halls or tele-rallies, and we’re getting very big crowds,” Trump said.

The initial slate of virtual rallies targeted four critical swing states in the upcoming election. Each drew roughly 1 million viewers on Facebook.

The Trump campaign has been doing virtual events for months amid the pandemic. Surrogates have hosted regular livestreams targeting female voters, Latino voters and Black voters. But this weekend marked the first time the president got involved.

It represents something of a concession for Trump, who spent the past several weeks insisting the country is doing well in its fight against the virus while his campaign simultaneously hammers presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden for being confined mostly to his basement to conduct virtual events.

“While Joe Biden continues to play hide and seek with the American people, the President is taking advantage of every avenue available to speak directly to voters about his America First agenda,” a campaign official said in a statement.

The content of the tele-rallies amount to a pared down version of Trump’s usual campaign speeches.

Trump highlighted the strength of the economy prior to the pandemic and his push to roll back government regulations. He focused on the importance of shaping the courts, saying the winner in November “is going to be choosing one, two, three, maybe even four Supreme Court justices.”

Biden, he argued in multiple virtual events, would favor policies that would raise taxes and change “our way of life.”

Trump tailored some of his remarks in each tele-rally to specifically fit whichever state he was addressing.

During the Arizona event, Trump shouted out Sen. Martha McSally (R) and members of the GOP delegation there who are up for reelection in November.

Trump used the Michigan tele-rally to swipe at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), a consistent foil during the pandemic.

“We are working with her. Sometimes we don’t want to, and we disagree with many of the things she’s doing,” Trump said. “But we will continue to work with her. We’re also working, quite honestly, around her, and we have to do that because what she wants to do is not going to be good for the state.”

And in his virtual call with supporters in North Carolina, Trump complained about Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) insistence that the Republican National Convention that was to be held in Charlotte would require social distancing and the use of face coverings. The convention was moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where capacity will be limited and masks will be required by local leaders.

Health concerns have also led Trump to put a pause on his in-person rallies. Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Okla., last month in an event that drew underwhelming crowds and that public health officials said contributed to new coronavirus cases in the area.

The president has no campaign rallies scheduled at the moment after postponing one in New Hampshire. But Trump suggested in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” that it was not for lack of trying, despite the health risks.

“I called Michigan, I want to have a big rally in Michigan. Do you know we’re not allowed to have a rally in Michigan?” Trump said.

“Do you know we’re not allowed to have a rally in Minnesota? Do you know we’re not allowed to have a rally in Nevada? We’re not allowed to have rallies,” he continued, suggesting it was politically motivated in states with Democratic governors.

In the meantime, Trump has turned to using the White House as a stand-in for his campaign stage, holding overtly political events in the Rose Garden and in the East Room in recent weeks.

The president told reporters Monday that he would resume giving regular coronavirus briefings this week. The White House abruptly stopped the briefings in April after Trump suggested injecting disinfectants into the body could be studied as a cure for the virus.

The briefings are controversial among some allies because, while they offer Trump a chance to make himself the face of the government responses to a crisis, he often spars with reporters, gets off track and undercuts his administration’s messaging. When they were a daily occurrence in March and April, some saw them as a stand-in for his rallies.

“We had a good slot,” Trump said Monday of the primetime briefings. “And a lot of people were watching, and that’s a good thing.”

Tags 2020 White House race Coronavirus Donald Trump Donald Trump presidential campaign Joe Biden Martha McSally town halls

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