United States President Donald Trump is postponing his planned rally on Saturday in New Hampshire, the White House has said, citing a tropical storm threatening parts of the mid-Atlantic and southern New England.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters travelling to Florida with the president on Friday the event – slated to be held in an aircraft hangar in Portsmouth – would be delayed by a week or two. She cited the threat of Tropical Storm Fay, which is expected to bring rain to the region.
“The rally scheduled for Saturday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has been postponed for safety reasons because of Tropical Storm Fay,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “It will be rescheduled and a new date will be announced soon.”
The event was to mark Trump’s first political rally after a multiweek hiatus caused by a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases and after his planned comeback in Oklahoma turned into a debacle.
Trump, trailing in the polls, is eager to signal that “normal” life can resume despite a rampaging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 Americans. He is to hold his first in-person fundraiser in a month on Friday in Florida.
The Portsmouth rally was scheduled after aides spent weeks studying what went wrong in Tulsa three weeks ago. The Tulsa event was billed as a massive, defiant return to the political stage but instead produced a humiliating sea of empty seats and questions about the campaign’s ability to attract people to large events in a pandemic.
Trump’s Friday fundraiser takes him to a terrain where COVID-19’s surge threatens his hold on a must-win state and raises questions about Republican aims to hold their nominating convention in Jacksonville next month. Trump will also hold a small event supporting the people of Venezuela and visit US Southern Command in Miami to highlight a reduction in the flow of illegal drugs into the US, though much of the credit belongs to the pandemic, which has paralyzed economies, closed borders and severed supply chains.
Unlike the one in Tulsa, which was held indoors where the virus more easily circulates, the rally in Portsmouth was to be partially outdoors, held in an aeroplane hangar open on one side with the crowd spilling out onto the tarmac before Air Force One.
“All of Donald Trump’s rallies and all of his events are electric,” said campaign spokesperson Hogan Gidley. “The president wants to go in there and talk about all the accomplishments he’s done in his first term and how he’s made people’s lives better.”
Despite the risks, the Trump campaign believes it needs to return to the road, both to animate the president, who draws energy from his crowds, and to inject life into a campaign that is facing a strong challenge from Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
“The campaign feels he needs to be out there, but every time he speaks in front of crowds, there is a chance the virus spreads,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “But it’s just as bad if he comes out to an empty crowd, which could be a sign that people are not enthused or they are scared.”
On Friday, Biden pointed to Florida’s rising coronavirus cases, saying: “It is clear that Trump’s response – ignore, blame others, and distract – has come at the expense of Florida families.”
The Trump campaign has also been eager to return to the road to draw a contrast with Biden, whom it has painted as being marooned in the basement of his Delaware home. Biden has travelled by car around Delaware or nearby Pennsylvania for a handful of events, and, in a contrast to Trump, wears a mask and observes social distancing guidelines.
Biden has been unapologetic about following recommendations from public health officials amid the pandemic. He has conducted regular online fundraisers and campaign events from makeshift television studios at his house, while sitting for remote video interviews with national networks and local stations in battleground states. He holds regular telephone, video and some in-person meetings with advisers.