PHOENIX (CN) — President Donald Trump addressed a rowdy crowd of mostly young supporters Tuesday afternoon at a rally in one of the nation’s virus hotspots, bringing his roadshow to Phoenix, Arizona, just days after the state reported 3,001 new Covid-19 cases.
Masks were rare in the crowd in a city where face coverings are required in public but the 2,000-seat Dream City Church was packed. A sea of Make America Great Again hats greeted the president in a state where he is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by double digits in some polls.
Trump opened his speech with a nod to Fox ratings for his Saturday rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and quickly derided the “radical left” for requiring conformity and destroying the nation’s history by toppling monuments to our past.
“They hate our history, they hate our values, and they hate everything we prize as Americans,” the president told the crowd of 2,000-plus at the megachurch in north Phoenix.
“The left-wing mob is trying to demolish our heritage so they can replace it with a new oppressive regime that they alone control,” Trump said. “They’re tearing down statues, desecrating monuments, and purging dissenters. It’s not the behavior of a peaceful political movement. It’s the behavior of totalitarians and tyrants.”
Donald Trump Jr. introduced his father after a brief speech in which he chided Biden as “China’s MVP” and wondered why the former vice president didn’t tell President Barack Obama if he knew how to solve America’s economic, racial and other problems.
“You would think if you knew how to do all these things, you would have done it in the first 50 years of your Washington career,” he said.
Karen Bedonie, 46, was at the rally with her five daughters and three sons. The Navajo Nation member, a former Republican candidate in Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, does not believe the Covid-19 numbers the state is reporting for the Navajo Nation.
“I don’t know anyone who has tested positive in my family or any extended family,” she said. “It’s just numbers. They say that we’re a hot spot, but I don’t believe it.”
Bedonie thinks the biggest impact of Covid-19 is economic. She recently permanently closed a flower shop she owned in Farmington, New Mexico.
“We’re in a fight to save our president and also save our country,” she said.
Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez criticized the president in a Zoom news conference a few hours before the rally.
“Over 1,300 Arizonans have already lost their lives, and today Trump is coming into town for a pep rally. What a disgrace,” Perez said. “He should be visiting health care providers and other front-line workers. This is the wrong time and the wrong place to bring together people for a political vanity process.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported a peak of 3,001 new Covid-19 cases statewide last Wednesday and 1,384 deaths as of Tuesday.
Trump, who toured the border wall near Yuma, Arizona, before the rally, touted his efforts to block access to the U.S. from Mexico. The president announced completion of more than 200 miles of 30-foot border wall, sparking a short chant of “Build the wall!” from the crowd.
On the novel coronavirus that has swept the nation and knee-capped the economy, Trump blamed China, with whom he had just completed trade agreements when the virus hit. Trump called the virus the “Wuhan virus,” the “China virus,” and finally after prompting from the crowd, the “Kung flu.”
Trump praised his trade deals with China, lamenting that the coronavirus pandemic hit before the nation could benefit from them.
“The ink wasn’t dry when we got hit by the plague, so I’m not too happy about that.”
Trump touted recent Wall Street gains, 2.5 million jobs added last month nationwide, and his administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Not a single American who needed a ventilator has been denied a ventilator,” the president said.
He claimed the November election will be the most corrupt in U.S. history, largely because of mail-in ballots, which he believes are prone to fraud.
“Where are these ballots going? Who’s getting them? Who’s not getting them?” he asked. “Who’s signing? Will they be forged, counterfeited in the millions by foreign powers? It’s going to be fraud.”
About two dozen protesters gathered in a designated free speech area at the church entrance before the rally. One Trump supporter with a megaphone mocked protesters, chiding them with homophobic taunts and challenging them to fight. None did, with dozens of police standing nearby, although a few protesters briefly verbally confronted the man.
Tori Howell, 18, was in the protest crowd holding a handmade “Students Against Trump” sign. She will not support the president in the first election she will vote in, especially on the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, she said.
“He doesn’t stand with women. He doesn’t stand with minorities. He loses kids in ICE. Obviously we are more separated, more divided than ever, and I will not support him,” Howell said.
A peaceful Black Lives Matter protest of a few dozen people stood at a corner two blocks from the church after the rally ended but Phoenix police quickly declared that gathering “illegal,” announcing the decision on a loudspeaker. About 50 police cars slowly moved down the street, following the protesters as they left the area under threat of arrest.
The rally was sponsored by Students for Trump, which lists 21 Arizona chapters among more than 2,000 nationwide on its website. Their goal is to educate students about free markets, small government, and other hallmarks of conservative politics, according to the website.