MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Declaring it’s “crunch time” for the upcoming election, President Donald Trump zeroed in on Midwest battleground states on Monday with a tough, law and order message to counterprogram former Vice President Joe Biden’s show at the Democrats’ national convention.
In Mankato, Minnesota, Trump stepped up his rhetoric against Biden, calling him a “puppet of left-wing extremists trying to erase our borders, eliminate our police, indoctrinate our children, vilify our heroes, take away our energy.” To a crowd of several hundred supporters outside an aircraft hangar, he alleged that Biden a victory would “replace American freedom with left-wing fascism.”
“Fascists. They are fascists,” Trump continued. “Some of them, not all of them, but some of them. But they’re getting closer and closer. We have to win this election. But the proud people of Minnesota will not let this happen.”
Fascism, though, is a form of far-right nationalism.
Earlier, Trump stopped in Minneapolis to hold an event with small business owners whose stores were damaged after violent protests and riots after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died in May in police custody.
“I’m here to help you. We will bring back law and order to your community. We will bring it back and we will bring it back immediately,” Trump told supporters on the airport tarmac. He did not venture to the scene of the protests or the memorial to Floyd in the city.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said the White House had been interested in Trump visiting the makeshift memorial in Minneapolis on the site of Floyd’s fatal encounter with police on Memorial Day.
“I spent this weekend trying to tell the White House why it was a really bad idea to have President Trump go down and stand at the George Floyd memorial and use (it) as a backdrop for his campaign and ignite the pain and the anguish that we’re feeling in Minnesota,” the governor said Monday during a virtual breakfast for the state’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows disputed Walz’ statement. “Gov. Walz never reached out to me, nor the president, nor the campaign so perhaps he misspoke,” Meadows told The Associated Press. We’ve communicated before, so he has our contact information.”
On the tarmac in Minneapolis, Trump addressed about 150 supporters — half of them wearing masks — who chanted “Four More Years.” Trump told them that the Democrats will be taking away the constitutional amendment to bear arms.
He also criticized Biden for supporting an expansion in refugee asylum admissions including from “terrorist hot spots,” in apparent reference to Minnesota’s large community of Somali refugees.
“I’m going to be so politically correct,” Trump said, before taking credit for his ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, saying “we want people to come into our country who love our country.”
Trump also was set to visit Wisconsin — the official host state of the entirely virtual Democratic National Convention — to launch a week of travel and political events aiming to blunt the customary polling “bounce” that a candidate gets during their convention week. The president trails in both public and private surveys less than three months before Election Day.
As Trump attacked Biden, his plans for his own convention next week were beginning to come into focus after the coronavirus scrapped plans for in-person gatherings in Charlotte and Jacksonville, Florida. Trump is set to accept the Republican nomination next Thursday in a speech from the White House, with the Republican National Committee filing a permit application to launch fireworks from the National Mall to mark the occasion. A spokesperson said the application was still pending.
Marking his heaviest week of political travel since the coronavirus put a stop to his campaign schedule and imperiled his reelection chances, Trump was expected to sharply criticize Biden’s economic policies in the Upper Midwest battleground states.
On Tuesday, Trump will take on Biden over his immigration policies during a visit to Yuma, Arizona. He is also set to travel to Pennsylvania, the state of Biden’s birth, on Thursday, ahead of the Democrat’s acceptance speech.
Trump’s aggressive push comes as his path to reelection has narrowed since the coronavirus hit, and he’s been forced to play defense in the states that carried him to reelection four years ago. Minnesota, viewed as a GOP pickup opportunity a year ago, now appears to be slipping out of reach, Republicans say.
Wisconsin, a state that had voted for Democratic presidents for decades until Trump’s 2016 victory, has emerged as one of the toughest battlegrounds of 2020. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday plans to visit the southern part of the state. Trump’s campaign views the state’s whiter, older demographics to be more favorable than Michigan, which Trump also won four years ago but is increasingly seen as a likely Democratic pick-up.
Trump’s campaign is seizing on Biden’s decision not to travel to Milwaukee for the convention, citing the pandemic, as the Democrat ‘effectively abandoning’ Wisconsin. The GOP is surging Republican surrogates to the state this week in a show of force, including Pence and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel.
Democrats insist they are still contesting the state, where they are devoting resources to television ads and field organizing, but that Biden is just being cautious and curtailing non-essential travel due to the coronavirus. He and Sen. Kamala Harris, his newly announced running mate, are set to deliver their convention addresses from Biden’s home state of Delaware this week, mitigating the need for air travel.
The events this week come as Trump’s campaign is looking to redefine what the president’s political events look like in the age of the coronavirus. Trump was addressing supporters at airports in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Mankato, Minnesota, two months after he was forced to abandon plans to resume holding rallies amid a resurgence in cases.
In Minnesota, there is a statewide mask mandate for public indoor spaces, and capacity must be limited so safe social distancing can be maintained. Many Trump supporters at both events in the state were not wearing masks during Trump’s remarks. In Wisconsin, supporters are required to be masked, but there is no statewide limit on how many people can gather.
AP writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisc., Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis, and Deb Riechmann, Darlene Superville and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.