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Trump: 'I was sailing to an easy election' until pandemic hit

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE on Tuesday lamented that he was "sailing" to reelection prior to the coronavirus pandemic, asking a crowd of supporters in North Carolina whether they thought China allowed the virus to spread "on purpose."

"How are we doing with China? We just have the plague. We've had other plagues sent by them. I wonder if they did it on purpose. What do you think?" Trump said in Winston-Salem, amplifying the unproven idea that China intentionally allowed COVID-19 to spread to the rest of the world.

"I’ve got to tell you, I was sailing to an easy election. This was going to be so easy," Trump continued. "I probably would’ve not been here tonight. I would’ve said, ‘No we don’t have to bother.' Now we have to work against a guy that doesn’t know where he is. I can’t believe it."

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The president has previously questioned the source of the coronavirus outbreak in China and mused about how certain parts of the country were not as intensely impacted by COVID-19 as the rest of the world. But he made a clear connection at Tuesday's rally between the onset of the virus and his political fortunes.

Trump appeared well positioned for reelection in February and early March as the economy remained strong and the Democratic Party had yet to coalesce around a nominee for president. But the U.S. struggled to get a handle on the pandemic, which Trump frequently downplayed for weeks as cases mounted.

The U.S. now has the most reported COVID-19 cases and deaths from the virus of any country in the world, and numerous polls have shown a majority of voters disapprove of Trump's handling of the virus. The economy also sank into a recession amid the pandemic and has struggled to make up lost ground in recent weeks.

The president at Tuesday's rally touted the ongoing development of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 and criticized Democratic governors who have maintained restrictions on large gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus.

He also suggested that the country, which has been intensely polarized throughout Trump's presidency, was starting to unify prior to the pandemic.

"We were so successful before the plague came in from China that we were starting to get together," he said. "People forget, success brings people together." 

"This was an unforeseen event," Trump said of the pandemic. "A terrible event. A horrible event. So many people died. Nobody should have died. Not one person."