President Donald Trump fought on Friday to recover from sinking election polls by campaigning with a hardline pitch to America’s right wing, claiming at rallies in Florida and Georgia that his Democratic opponent Joe Biden would deliver communism and a “flood” of criminal immigrants.
While Mr. Trump put on a brave face, the fact that he was fighting for the two southern States he won four years ago illustrated how much ground he has to make up against Mr. Biden in the 18 days left until the election.
With his polls sliding and U.S. COVID-19 infections spiking, Mr. Trump is focusing entirely on his core Republican base, in hopes that highly energised supporters will turn out in huge numbers.
In Ocala, Florida, the coronavirus was an afterthought.
Instead, Mr. Trump tossed the large, loudly cheering crowd red meat on immigration, race, and his conspiracy theory that Mr. Biden is steeped in corruption.
Spicing his stump speech with lurid exaggerations, Mr. Trump claimed that the “Biden family is a criminal enterprise.”
He said Democrats “have nothing but disdain for your values” and “want to turn America into a communist country” — a reprise of his successful 2016 message tapping into white, working-class resentment.
“It’s time we sent a message to these wealthy liberal hypocrites,” he told the cheering crowd in Macon, Georgia on Friday night.
Mr. Trump also dived into racially charged comments on Latin American migrants, saying Democrats will “flood your communities with illegal aliens, drugs, crime.”
And he lashed out at one of his most outspoken critics, the Somali-American Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, saying “she hates our country” and “comes from a place that doesn’t even have a government.”
Mr. Trump had still more venom for journalists, whom he called “the enemy of the people.”
And he seemed to acknowledge things might not go his way in the end.
“Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose?,” Mr. Trump mused.
“What am I gonna do?,” he continued. “I’m not gonna feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country. I don’t know.”
Biden stays focused
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, was campaigning in Michigan, where he ripped into Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus — the strongest issue of his campaign. “He keeps telling us that this virus is going to disappear like a miracle,” Mr. Biden said in Southfield.
“My lord! It’s not disappearing, in fact it’s on the rise again, it’s getting worse, as predicted,” Mr. Biden said.
He also homed in on another area where Mr. Trump has run into regular controversy — his often lacklustre responses when asked to condemn White supremacists. He said Mr. Trump’s comments were a “dog whistle” to such groups.
“We choose hope over fear, unity over division, science over fiction and yes, truth over lies.”
However, Mr. Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon sounded a note of caution for Democrats, saying national polls especially were misleading.
“We are not ahead by double digits,” she said. “Those are inflated national public polling numbers.”
Mr. Biden will be getting help from Democratic superstar Barack Obama on Wednesday next week when the former president, who had Biden as his vice president, campaigns in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Republicans raise alarm
As the polling clouds darken for Mr. Trump, prominent members of his own Republican party — including Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — are sounding the alarm.
Mr. Sasse, in a telephone call with constituents this week obtained by The Washington Examiner , said a defeat for Mr. Trump looks “likely” and Republicans may also lose the Senate.
Mr. Sasse also had harsh words for Mr. Trump, saying he is “TV-obsessed,” “narcissistic” and allowed his family to treat “the presidency like a business opportunity.”
But Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Republican ally for Mr. Trump, told AFP that voters were starting to weigh the pros and cons of the two parties, rather than focusing on Mr. Trump’s bruising personality.
“I think it’s getting better for us by the day,” he said.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are to hold a final debate next Thursday. They had been scheduled to hold one this Thursday but Mr. Trump backed out after it was changed to a virtual debate following his COVID-19 diagnosis. The candidates held rival townhall instead.