SANFORD, Fla. — A defiant President Donald Trump, less than two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, swooped into Central Florida to a rock star’s welcome on Monday evening.
What You Need To Know
- President making 1st campaign rally trip since COVID-19 diagnosis
- Supporters queued early to see Trump at Orlando Sanford International Airport
- Trip comes just 2 days after Pence rallied in Orlando, The Villages
- Winning Florida is seen as essential to Trump's re-election chances
- RELATED: Exclusive: Vice President Mike Pence Talks COVID-19, Jobs: "We’re Opening Up America Again"
- COMPLETE COVERAGE: 2020 Election News and Resources | Florida Voter Guide
An overflowing crowd of thousands greeted the president at Orlando Sanford International Airport after he landed on Air Force One. Supporters lined up in the Central Florida heat hours before the rally began, and they packed rows of bleachers that surrounded the president’s podium three hours before his arrival.
“It’s great to be back,” Trump said, referring to his visit to the same spot during his 2016 election campaign. He told supporters he was “overwhelmed by your prayers and humbled by your support.”
The president landed in Sanford 10 days after he announced that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus amid what has become an outbreak of cases of people in or close to his administration. Trump’s case forced the cancellation of his planned October 2 visit to Sanford.
Yet on Friday, amid questions of his quick recovery and whether he could potentially spread the virus, Trump announced that he would follow through on his plans to visit the battleground county of Seminole. White House physician Sean Conley said over the weekend that the president no longer posed a COVID-19 transmission risk.
Like most of his supporters, Trump appeared without a mask.
“They say I’m immune. I feel so powerful,” Trump said to cheers. “When you’re the president, you can’t lock yourself up in the basement. It’s risky, but you’ve got to get out.”
“The cure can’t be worse than the problem,” he added.
The president’s visit marked one more sign that the Trump campaign sees Central Florida as crucial to its re-election hopes.
In his visit, Trump followed Vice President Mike Pence, who on Saturday appeared at a rally at The Villages retirement community and a “Latinos for Trump” event in Orlando.
Trump praised Pence and Hispanic Americans, saying of Latinos, “You have been so incredible to Trump.” In perhaps an appeal to Central Florida’s significant Puerto Rican population and voting force, he also declared himself, “about the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.”
The visits came as polls showed the president trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden nationally and in Florida — the biggest of all battleground states, which the candidates see as essential to win the November 3 election.
“Oh, I like Florida,” Trump said. “Did we win Florida last time?”
Dismissing polls and blasting the news media, the president said, “We’re winning by a lot more now than we were four years ago.”
Trump spent much of his opening remarks smashing Biden, calling him “Sleepy Joe” and suggesting that the former vice president lacks the alertness of President Xi of China, President Putin of Russia and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. “They’re 100 percent sharp,” he said.
The rally included an appearance by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who emphasized his support for opening the country amid the coronavirus pandemic and for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
The president appeared on the day that Barrett faced her first day of contentious Senate confirmation hearings.
“Amy is fantastic — a great intellect, a great scholar,” Trump said. “I think she’s going to be a fantastic U.S. Justice.”
About DeSantis, Trump said: “I would like to praise the governor of Florida. You’re open, and you’re open for business.”
Among other topics during an hour-long speech, Trump boasted success of the stock market, the deportation of “criminal” immigrants, and what he called “the tightest, safest border in U.S. history.” He praised his moves on taxes, regulations, and the economy.
He also boasted about Iran’s economy and his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
“Instead of all these endless wars, we’re forging peace in the Middle East,” Trump said.
To particularly loud cheers, the president told supporters that he would remain firm in defense of their right to bear arms. He said he would protect Medicare, Social Security, and patients with pre-existing conditions. He made references to God, and he implored his supporters to vote.
Trump returned to a location that embraced him with a reported crowd of about 10,000 during the 2016 presidential campaign.
He left them on Monday with the promise he would keep “winning, winning, winning” for them.
“We are one people, one family, and one glorious nation under God,” he told them. “… We will make America great again.”