Donald Trump holds 'tele-rally' in campaign first amid coronavirus pandemic
Posted July 18, 2020 6:14 p.m. EDT
CNN — President Donald Trump says his reelection campaign will hold telephone town halls instead of large, in-person campaign rallies because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump held what was described as his "first ever TELE-Rally" on Friday, delivering 23 minutes of stream-of-consciousness remarks on a variety of topics, including his administration's Covid-19 response to criticisms of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
"I wanted to be with you, and this is really replacing our rallies that we all love so much," Trump told supporters dialed into a telephone call, noting that, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, "we're doing really well with the therapeutics and vaccines, but until that gets solved it's going to be tough to have those big massive rallies, so I'm doing telephonic rallies, and we'll call them the Trump rallies, but we'll do it by telephone."
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The decision to hold a tele-rally comes on the heels of a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that saw depressed turnout and forced the campaign to scrap outdoor remarks from the President at the last minute when supporters failed to materialize.
Another rally, scheduled for last weekend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was canceled shortly before it was set to happen due to weather concerns, and it has yet to be officially rescheduled. Tulsa saw a surge in Covid-19 cases following the President's rally while several staffers were forced to quarantine after eight campaign staffers on the ground tested positive for coronavirus.
Trump's remarks during the Wisconsin tele-rally were largely directed at Wisconsin voters, though the President departed from the script at times to offer race-based swipes at Biden, who he warned "wants to hurt the suburbs," by enforcing Obama-era housing regulations aimed at fighting segregation.
The President also took the opportunity to tout his administration's response to coronavirus, telling supporters on the line, "We've done a great job, gotten very little credit for it. They've given credit to other people, we've, who frankly had much less to do with it than we did," later adding, "Our testing program is the best in the world, we've tested almost 50 million people, and when you do that it's going to show more cases, and so we show more cases but it's still the right thing to do."
Trump drew fire last month for suggesting he'd asked officials to "slow down" testing, a claim staff dismissed as a joke (but he claimed was in earnest).
So far, the President has resisted the digital campaign trail, even as Biden has fully pivoted to a digital campaign operation, with Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh telling CNN earlier this month, "There is nothing like a Donald Trump rally. It is a unique phenomenon in American political history; it is difficult to replicate that experience."
Still, the campaign has hinted that as coronavirus cases continue to rise nationwide, the campaign may have to rethink its strategy -- the President is scheduled to participate in his first digital fundraiser Tuesday, which he'll headline with Trump Victory finance committee national chair Kimberly Guilfoyle. The fundraiser comes after two months of being outraised by the Biden campaign, which deployed star-studded digital fundraisers at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic back in March.