Updated Jun 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump returns to the campaign circuit: "So far tonight I’m average"

This photo of Trump at a campaign rally in Tulsa includes a crowd member wearing a face mask
Trump on stage in Tulsa. Photo: Nicholas Kamm /AFP/Getty Images

President Trump ended his three-month hiatus from the campaign trail by plunging straight into the culture wars.

Why it matters: Trump is trying to tie former Vice President Joe Biden to demonstrators taking down statues across the country.

  • "Two days ago, leftist radicals in Portland Oregon ripped down a statue of George Washington," Trump said mid-speech.
  • "If Biden is elected he will surrender to these mobsters."
  • "If you burn the American flag, you go to jail for one year."

Between the lines: On stage, Trump called COVID-19 the "Kung-flu."

  • In mid-March, the president was asked about an allegation that a member of his staff had used the term "Kung flu" and while he didn’t condemn the term, he has not used it in public. At the time, he said he didn’t think it would put Asian-Americans at risk of being blamed for the virus.
  • Later in March, he took to Twitter to warn against blaming Asian-Americans and said “it is very important that we totally protect our Asian America community in the United States.”

The big picture: Masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were scarce and couldn’t be seen on the supporters behind him.

  • "You are warriors," Trump told the crowd.
  • Trump demanded that schools open in the fall. "Kids are much stronger than us," he said.

At one point in the speech Trump said he'd asked officials to "slow the testing down," complaining that high testing rates were to blame for America's high number of confirmed cases.

  • Biden's campaign issued a statement calling Trump's remarks on slowing down testing "appalling." However, White House officials told reporters soon after the president made the comments that Trump was joking.

Reporters traveling with the president said that BOK Center, with a capacity of 19,000, was far from sold out. And the campaign cancelled a planned outdoor rally.

The big picture: Trump's revamped stump speech, given one day after Juneteenth, was directed at his base. He is showing no signs — and no inclination — of trying to unify the country.

  • Much of his speech was a compilation of his pre-COVID greatest hits, with a few new lines. He did victory laps on his judicial picks and his decision to kill Iran's military leader Qassem Soleimani.
  • But he hinted at his recent setback on the Supreme Court: "It's almost like we are a minority court."
  • Then quickly pivoted to a novel legal argument that his side emerged victorious on the DACA ruling and lost on a mere technicality. "We actually won on DACA," before acknowledging that "It would have been nice if he had won it."

Trump had an extended defense of his stage performance at West Point, insisting that he was wearing slippery leather soles, not the sticky rubber ones that were sported by his military escort.

  • He claimed he used two hands to sip his water to avoid spilling on his expensive tie.

The bottom line: Trump seemed to spend as much time focusing on Democratic mayors and governors as he did on Biden.

  • It's a hint that he plans to run against protestors in Seattle and Portland and then force Biden to defend them. "Joe Biden is not the leader of his party," he said. "Joe Biden is a helpless puppet of the radical left."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the Biden campaign's comments.

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