Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 October 2020

US ELECTIONS

Mr Immune: Donald Trump back on campaign trail with a roar

President is looking to improve polling numbers and stabilise an erratic campaign after he caught coronavirus

Immune to coronavirus and stronger than Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, Donald Trump wanted America to know he was back.

"Here we are!" he roared at a rally in Sanford, Florida, on Monday, his voice made slightly hoarse by his bout of the virus.

A week after leaving hospital, Mr Trump strode on stage, tossing masks like a rock star handing out autographs.

He was not wearing a mask, and neither was anyone else barring a small minority in the crowd of several thousand who gathered to see the Republican's return to the campaign trail.

Mr Trump wanted to show that he could defy illness and his poor polling figures against Mr Biden.

Loud, coarse at times, diving into his repetitive jokes and insulting opponents and journalists, Mr Trump did not sound like a clinically obese 74-year-old who a few days ago was being given oxygen by doctors.

"They say I'm immune," he bragged. "I feel so powerful."

From ditching his mask to parking the presidential Air Force One jet behind the podium, this was a rally stage-managed to push Mr Trump's image as a man unbound by laws governing ordinary people.

He was not wearing the Superman shirt under his suit that the New York Times reported he had considered doing on leaving hospital October 5, but the crowd would not have been fazed had he done so.

"We love you, we love you," they cheered.

That defiance was on show before Mr Trump left Washington.

Waiting for Mr Trump's motorcade from Washington at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, staff could be seen mopping and wiping down surfaces in the press cabin of Air Force One.

Unlike on past trips – even throughout the coronavirus period – staff, Secret Service agents and air force personnel all wore masks.

There was real tension surrounding the trip. The White House has become a coronavirus hotspot in the past 10 days, a symbol of Mr Trump's hands-off approach to a pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans.

So, the White House assured the pool of journalists that every person boarding the plane would first be tested for the coronavirus and anyone interacting with reporters would wear a mask.

But when the presidential motorcade arrived, it jarred to see Mr Trump step from his car with no mask, the only bare face in the convoy.

A member of the ground crew wearing a protective face mask salutes U.S. President Donald Trump as he boards Air Force One while departing Washington for travel to Florida, his first campaign trip since being treated for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A member of the ground crew wearing a protective face mask salutes US President Donald Trump as he boards Air Force One while departing Washington for travel to Florida. Reuters

With a thumbs-up to the press, he boarded the plane and jogged on one of the steps to show his vitality.

Mr Trump talked of a protective glow after getting over coronavirus. The way he told it, his special powers made him invincible against Mr Biden, too. Since re-emerging from medication for the coronavirus, he has mocked his opponent's travel schedule, his mask-wearing and coughing.

"He's got no strength left, he's got no power left," Mr Trump told Monday's crowd.

"He may be the worst presidential candidate in history, and I got him," he scoffed.

The polls do not bear this out.

They consistently show Mr Trump far behind Mr Biden, possibly heading for a defeat of landslide proportions.

They show an overwhelming majority of Americans angry at Mr Trump's handling of the pandemic. They show women and the elderly – two key voting groups – abandoning Mr Trump.

But Mr Trump has spent a lifetime perfecting the art of creating a story about himself and on Monday night in Florida, at least, he was able to tell his story to a receptive audience.

"These are the real polls," he said, gazing over the crowd of supporters in red Make American Great Again baseball caps.

They cheered.

Updated: October 13, 2020 11:42 AM

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