President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden covered much of the same ground as they crisscrossed Midwestern battleground states Friday, but they brought diametrically opposite messages on the coronavirus crisis.
At a rally in Michigan, Trump brushed off the deadliness of the virus, made fun of Fox News host Laura Ingraham for wearing a mask, and suggested hospitals were falsely inflating the number of Covid-19 deaths in the country in order to make more money.
Biden focused his remarks in Iowa on what he said was Trump’s “surrender” to the virus that has infected more than 9 million people and killed over 230,000 across the country, and urged Americans to mask up in order to save lives.
With just four days to Election Day, the candidates made their remarks in the first of three rallies each around the Midwest on Friday. Trump started in Michigan before holding rallies in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Biden held a rally in Iowa before holding two others in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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Trump, speaking at an airport tarmac in Waterford Township, Michigan, repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus and the measures needed to stop it, even though the state has been reporting a record number of cases in recent weeks. His remarks came just one day after almost 1,000 people across the country died from the virus and a record 90,000 new infections were reported.
“If you get it, you are going to get better and then you’re going to be immune, and it’s a whole thing and it goes away, but the vaccines will help,” Trump said. At one point, he spotted and mocked his longtime booster Ingraham in the crowd for wearing a mask. “No way! Are you wearing a mask? I’ve never seen her in a mask, look at you. Wow, she’s being very politically correct. Wow,” he said. Ingraham flew with the president on Air Force One after the event.
Trump also told the Michigan crowd the country’s high death toll compared to other countries is the result of a scam being carried out by doctors who are padding the numbers to pocket money from the insurance agencies.
“I mean our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, I’m sorry, but everybody dies with Covid,” Trump said. “But in Germany and other places, if you have a heart attack or if you have cancer, you’re terminally ill, you catch Covid, they say you died of cancer, he died of heart attack.”
“When in doubt, choose Covid. … [I]t’s like $2,000 more. So you get more money,” he added.
Physicians’ groups have denied the allegations, and doctors have noted that the death rate this year compared to last year’s suggests the number of coronavirus deaths is actually being undercounted.
Trump also mocked Biden’s dire assessment at their final debate last week that the country was in for a dark winter because of the virus.
“Oh that’s great, that’s wonderful. That’s just what our country needs is a long dark winter, and a leader that talks about it,” Trump said.
At the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Biden’s different approach was made clear before he even took the stage. He was introduced by health care activist Ross Daniels, who lost his father to Covid-19 and spoke about the pain of not being able to be with his father when he died.
“Joe Biden understands this,” Daniels said at the drive-in rally. “Joe Biden was made for this moment.”
Biden told him “My heart goes out to you,” and “the best way to get through it is to find purpose, and you’ve done that.”
The Democratic nominee then launched into an angry takedown of the president’s handling of the coronavirus, saying he’s “waving the white flag” while allowing the virus to claim American lives and wallop Iowa’s economy.
“Donald Trump refuses to listen to science,” Biden said in urging all Americans to do their “patriotic duty” by wearing masks. He noted the Trump administration’s own scientists have said that wearing masks and socially distancing “will save a 100,000 lives this year.”
The former vice president also pushed back on Trump’s claim that as president, Biden would lock down the country.
“I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus,” Biden said.
At his drive-in rally later in the day in St. Paul, Minnesota, Biden made mention of George Floyd, the Black man who was killed when a police offer kneeled on his neck for more than 8 minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis, setting off nationwide protests against police brutality, and in some cases riots.
Biden called the riots “unacceptable,” but said the protests were a “cry for justice” and one he would answer if he’s elected.
He was trolled at the event by some Trump supporters who used loud horns to try disrupt his remarks.
“These guys are not very polite but they’re like Trump, but look we’re going to be okay. We’re going take care of them as well. We need to come together. We need to fight for all these folks,” Biden said.
At his second stop in Green Bay, Trump made mention of the riots that broke out in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August.
The president claimed credit for calling in the National Guard to help quell the violence, although it was the state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who activated the Guard a day before Trump called for it publicly.
“When the violent mob came to a place known as Kenosha, did you ever hear of Kenosha? Because I did. Remember what I did. If I didn’t get, if I didn’t activate immediately, Kenosha would not be there any longer. They were going to take it. By sending in the National Guard, and I insisted on it, and I frankly wish the governor asked me sooner. But at least he asked me. But we came in and that was over,” Trump said.
Trump also complained about the coronavirus-related restrictions on crowd sizes that were put in place for his final stop of the day in Minnesota, where there’s been a surge in cases. “They said we can only have 250 people. So they were hoping I’d say ‘Oh, well, we can’t do that. Let’s turn around.’ No, we’re going to go. We’re going to,” Trump said. “It will be very interesting.”
Trump was clearly annoyed about the restriction when he arrived in Rochester, Minnesota, for his final campaign appearance of the day.
He first went to speak to an overflow crowd before heading to the podium to speak to the smaller group at the official rally. He spoke for only 21 minutes, and spent a chunk of it complaining about local officials.
“There are at least 25,000 people who wanted to be here tonight,” he said. “We just saw a lot of them. Wanted to pay our respects. They were here for a long time, they waited and waited. And then the governor did bad things.”
Biden held his final event in Milwaukee, where he spoke to a small group of two dozen invited guests in an airplane hangar. They were socially distanced and wearing N95 masks. He told the attendees about Trump’s charge that doctors were inflating the coronavirus death toll.
“Donald Trump should stop attacking and do his job,” Biden said.