During his swing through Arizona on Tuesday to both visit the border wall and address young conservatives, President Donald Trump rallied his base by framing the national upheaval over police brutality and racism as an attack on America by the "radical left."
Speaking to a roughly 3,000 person-capacity auditorium at Dream City Church in Phoenix, which hosted the event put on by Students for Trump, the president gave a law-and-order pitch for his candidacy and the Republican party.
After glowing introductions from speakers including his son, Donald Trump Jr., and Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, Trump depicted the protests, looting, and defacing of confederate monuments that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis cop as the result of a "left wing mob" run amok in America's streets. He sold the turmoil as just another example of "cancel culture" and "oppressive left wing ideology" that would only accelerate if presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won the election in November.
"The radical left, they hate our history, they hate our values, and they hate everything we prize as Americans," Trump said. "The left-wing mob is trying to demolish our heritage so they can replace it with a new repressive regime that they alone control."
Gaetz, who warmed up the crowd prior to Trump, encapsulated the message this way: "I’m not ready for the woketopia being built by the radical left."
Trump's visit comes as polls show him trailing Biden in Arizona. He also urged conservatives to turn out for Arizona Senator Martha McSally, who is in a tight, high-profile race with Democratic challenger Mark Kelly; McSally attended the rally along with Republican Governor Doug Ducey.
"They’re tearing down statutes, desecrating monuments, and purging dissenters," Trump said. "'Defund the police' is now their theme. It will happen to our country if a guy like Joe Biden gets in, because Joe Biden has no control over what is happening."
Trump also suggested that the figures depicted in confederate monuments around the country, which have been defaced or damaged by protesters in various cities who argue that slavery-supporting confederate leaders shouldn't be glorified, but rather ought to be perpetually memorialized.
"Our heroes are not a source of shame, they are an example and something that you can all look up to, a true example of greatness, a point of pride," he said. "We will honor them and cherish them forever."
In contrast to Trump's lackluster Saturday campaign rally in Tulsa — where turnout was underwhelming and Trump rambled on about his personal grievances with the national media — the president largely stuck to a speech about his accomplishments that was geared for a young conservative audience. He played up his appointments to the federal bench and the U.S. Supreme Court, the Republican tax-cut package, and took credit for the pre-pandemic economic boom. He decried the supposed pro-liberal bias of colleges, a familiar gripe of young conservative groups.
"You’re at a crossroads," Trump said. "The very survival of our freedoms, our rights and our republic, they’re all at stake."
Overshadowing Trump's visit was the surge in COVID-19 cases in Arizona. On Tuesday, state officials reported 3,591 cases, a new record for a single daily tally. But the pandemic was generally a side note in Trump's speech. Trump doubled down on blaming China for the pandemic at the Phoenix rally, calling the coronavirus "kung flu" and the "Chinese flu." He downplayed the pandemic in general and attributed the spikes in cases on increased testing.
Epidemiologists dispute the notion that increased testing is the cause of the increase in COVID-19 cases in Arizona and other states. Not Trump.
"It’s going away," he said. "We have done such a great job with this."
In a phone call with reporters, Arizona Democrats, including Congressman Ruben Gallego and State House Minority Leader Representative Charlene Fernandez, thrashed Trump for coming to Arizona and holding a rally amidst the escalating local epidemic.
“Donald Trump is taking his ‘Broken Promises’ tour to Arizona, the state that is ground zero for his failures of leadership," said Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee. "Coronavirus has surged in Arizona in recent weeks, especially in recent days, nearing 55,000 cases and setting new records for hospitalizations and ventilator use with every passing day. Over 1,300 Arizonans have already lost their lives, and today Trump is coming into town for a pep rally in two different locations. What a disgrace."
Prior to Trump's speech at about 3:30 p.m., the scene outside Dream City Church wasn't very turbulent. Trump supporters trickled into the venue, while small groups of protesters gathered holding signs criticizing the president and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I think he's mismanaged [the pandemic]," said Lori Fiori, a 51-year-old public school teacher in the Phoenix metro area. "All he cares about is his reelection and getting power. That's the bottom line. He just wants the power."
One protester, who declined to give his name, claimed to be a "registered Republican" who planned to vote for Biden in November.
"[Trump's] only for himself. Everything he does and has done for years, he's only for himself," he said. "Look at the facts. He's always been about himself and his family."
Meanwhile, Trump supporters touted the president's track record and defended his response to the coronavirus. Some focused on the turmoil surrounding the national Black Lives Matter protests as a reason to vote for Trump, arguing that Biden is poorly equipped to handle current moment.
"Our country is being burned down right now. Our country is being looted," said John Spensieri, a 66-year-old Phoenix resident and Trump supporter. "The pandemic is an issue, for sure. But it's a virus and we're going to get through it."
"He's doing the best he can," said Susan Moy, 66, referring to Trump's widely criticized response to the COVID-19 pandemic. "He did try to close the borders early, which was good, and then people fought him on that."
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The day concluded in clashes between police and protesters.
As a crowd of several hundred demonstrators marched to the venue, at around 4:30 p.m., reports emerged of police donning riot gear and using flash bang grenades and pepper spray to break up the crowd gathered in a cordoned-off "free speech zone" outside Dream City Church.
The Phoenix Police Department later posted on Twitter that the protest was deemed "unlawful" after two protesters committed "aggravated assault" on a police officer while "others threw items at officers and tried to move into the path designated for the Presidential Motorcade."
No arrests were made.