MACON (AFP) – United States (US) 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 Trump put on a brave face, the fact that he was fighting at all for the two southern states he won four years ago illustrated how much ground he has to make up against Biden in the 18 days left until the election.
With his polls sliding and US COVID-19 infections spiking, Trump is focussing 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, Trump tossed the large, loudly cheering crowd red meat on immigration, race, and his conspiracy theory that Biden is steeped in corruption.
Spicing his stump speech with lurid exaggerations, 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.
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”.
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?,” 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, meanwhile, was campaigning in Michigan where he ripped into 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,” Biden said in Southfield. “It’s not disappearing, in fact it’s on the rise again, it’s getting worse, as predicted,” Biden said.
He also homed in on another area where Trump has run into regular controversy – his often lacklustre responses when asked to condemn extreme right-wing groups.