By Toluse Olorunnipa May 20, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
President Trump, approaching his longest stretch without a political rally since he announced his candidacy five years ago, has taken to blaming Democrats for grounding his campaign.
But even as several states begin relaxing their coronavirus restrictions, Trump has not scheduled any rallies in Republican-led states — and his campaign has not reached out to governors in swing states to inquire about holding large political events.
The claim of politically motivated closures was outlined most directly by Trump’s son, Eric, who accused Democrats of trying to strip the president of his greatest reelection weapon.
“They’re trying to deprive him of his greatest asset, which is the fact that the American people love him — the fact that he is relatable, the fact that he can go out there and can draw massive crowds,” Eric Trump told Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro on Saturday, echoing the president’s charge. “Joe Biden can’t get 10 people in a room. My father is getting 50,000 in a room. And they want to do everything they can to stop it.”
The president has accused Democrats of “playing politics” with their plans to reopen their economies. He has also said that Biden, the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee, is benefiting from the closures because they have kept him out of the spotlight.
And now, despite a pandemic that has killed more than 90,000 people in the United States and forced economic shutdowns, the president has said he will soon be filling arenas. But that prediction might be more optimism than reality, raising the possibility that Trump will be unable to deploy his trademark political events for some time even as he seeks to project a return to normalcy from pandemic life as part of his reelection campaign.
A survey of governors’ offices in 10 swing states showed that none had received a request from the president’s campaign to hold a rally and that most are operating under reopening plans that would not allow large gatherings any time soon.
“Not aware of any such request,” a spokeswoman for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said when asked whether the Trump campaign had reached out about holding a rally in the state. Kemp was the first governor to relax coronavirus restrictions, but large gatherings like rallies remain prohibited unless attendees can maintain six feet of distance among one another.
“The Trump campaign has not reached out to the Governor’s office” about holding a rally, said Helen Ferré, a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Even though DeSantis has begun easing restrictions in the key swing state, social distancing rules are still in force.
It has been 80 days since Trump last held a campaign rally, and he could soon surpass the 92-day stretch that began in December 2017 for the longest drought since he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015. Trump has held 400 rallies since announcing his candidacy and regularly credits the raucous events with powering him to the White House.
Breaking with precedent, Trump continued to hold political rallies in the weeks after his 2016 victory, launched his reelection campaign on the day of his inauguration and has held dozens of rallies each year since the beginning of his term.
In the weeks before the coronavirus outbreak shut down dozens of states, Trump had been holding one or two rallies each week, part of a strategy touted by his campaign as critical to its data and turnout operations.
Campaign advisers said they had built an entire apparatus around the rallies, turning them into week-long events bracketed by surrogate appearances, bus tours and tailgate-style parties. The campaign launched a mobile app last month that aims to capitalize on the rallies.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said that Trump “connects best with the American people” on the campaign trail, adding that rallies would resume “as soon as it is possible.” He declined to say whether the campaign has determined which states the president would focus on or if officials had been in touch with specific states to plan out rallies. Still, he echoed Trump’s claims that Democrats are “playing politics” with reopening their economies and touted the Trump campaign’s growing digital effort.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres said he did not believe there was a partisan plot by Democrats to harm the president politically by maintaining coronavirus restrictions, which often match the federal guidance put out by the Trump administration.
“There’s not much partisan pattern to the state restrictions,” he said.
Ayres said Trump’s voters remain engaged despite the current pause in political rallies.
“The president’s rallies are important to energize his supporters and important to energize him,” he said. “He seems to really feed off their energy.”
Democratic governors have said they are not considering politics as they contemplate how and when to reopen their states for various kinds of activity and gatherings.
Several governors’ offices told The Washington Post that the Trump campaign had not reached out about holding a rally any time soon.
Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), said Eric Trump’s claims that Democrats were using the pandemic to hurt the president’s reelection bid were “absurd.”
“This is a public health crisis — there are thousands of people sick in this state and hundreds have died,” she said. “To suggest that there’s any kind of political motivation for keeping politicians from gathering in large groups is just ridiculous.”
Eric Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
In Michigan, where the president has sided with armed protesters against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), state restrictions have begun to ease but not enough to allow huge political rallies.
“The worst thing we can do is open up in a way that causes a second wave of infections and death, puts health-care workers at further risk and wipes out all the progress we’ve made,” said Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for Whitmer’s office.
Trump is scheduled to travel to Ypsilanti, Mich., on Thursday to tour a Ford plant that was converted to make ventilators.
Unable to hold traditional campaign events, Trump has been traveling to swing states in recent weeks for official White House events that sometimes veer into partisan politics.
Trump has also used the visits to decry some of the social distancing measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus. The president has repeatedly said he does not like the look of people spaced apart, and his campaign has pointed to his packed crowds as a sign of his electoral strength.
“Oh, that social distancing. Look at you people all spread out, six feet. That’s pretty impressive,” Trump said last week during a visit to a medical supply distribution company in Allentown, Pa. “But we like it the old way a little bit better, don’t we? And we’ll be back. We’ll be back to that soon, I think.”
After touring a Honeywell mask factory in Arizona, Trump said his friends are pining for a return to his “fun” — and crowded — rallies.
“I can’t have a rally with, you know, seven seats in-between everybody. And I hope we can do that soon,” Trump told ABC News on May 5. “The rallies are the least of it, but you know, people are asking me all the time. Just last night, I got three calls — ‘When are we going to do a rally?’ ”
He predicted that the rallies restart soon.
Large social gatherings are among the last kinds of activity that public health experts say should be allowed under a phased lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
“When there are thousands of people in a single building, it’s a near certainty that some of them will have the infection,” said Ben Sommers, a doctor who teaches at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “And we know that close contact in confined spaces — exactly the kind of thing happening at a stadium rally — creates a very high risk of spreading infection to numerous other people.”
Trump’s own White House coronavirus task force has issued guidelines urging states to wait to see a sustained decline in coronavirus cases for several weeks before allowing large, crowded social gatherings.
Those guidelines, which Trump has largely played down, could become the source of increased tension as Republicans prepare to host a political convention in North Carolina in August. Trump has accused North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) of “playing politics” in deciding whether to permit the gathering of thousands of party faithful. Cooper’s office has said he is following the White House guidelines.
“It’s got a Democrat governor, so we have to be a little bit careful with that, because they’re playing politics,” Trump told the Washington Examiner last week. “They’re playing politics, as you know, by delaying the openings.”
The remarks echoed a May 11 tweet in which the president accused Democrats of “moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes.”
Under Cooper’s order, gatherings in North Carolina are currently limited to 10 people. Although state officials are in contact with the Republican National Committee about the convention, Cooper is basing his actions on “the data and the science based on White House guidance,” said Dory MacMillan, press secretary for the governor.
“Pandemics cannot be political,” she said.