“If you give power to people that demolish monuments and attack churches and seize city streets and set fire to buildings, then nothing is sacred and nothing is safe,” Trump said. “We stopped them last night.”
Protesters have been targeting monuments dedicated to historical figures that have advanced slavery or colonialism, asserting they are better remembered in history books and museums than celebrated with memorials.
But Trump characterized their attempts as effacing history, telling the crowd: “The left are not trying to promote justice and equality. [They are in] the pursuit of their own political power.”
The president repeated a claim he made on Monday night that those who deface public monuments would receive 10 years in prison, according to the Veteran Memorials Preservation and Recognition. The act actually caps punishment for defacing memorials for service members on public land at either 10 years in prison, a fine or both.
A debate is raging here among the political class over whether the scene inside the church, which is separated from the city’s commercial districts by massive parking lot, suburban subdivisions and a nature preserve, is merely a mirage in the sandstorm swirling all around it.
Tuesday was another record day for new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in Arizona, as public health authorities struggle to get the virus under control and avoid another shutdown, which would hammer an economy that has been slowly rebuilding in recent weeks but remains fragile.
The state reported 3,591 new cases, nearly doubling its daily case count from last week, and 42 related deaths. And hospitalizations exceeded 2,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.
When he mentioned what he called “the plague,” the president dismissed it: “It’s going away,” he said.
“What a job we’re doing with testing. We did ventilators,” Trump said, attacking “the fake news people” for what he called misleading the public about how bad the situation is.
“We’re going to have a vaccine very soon,” he promised.
Later in the speech he made fun of the disease and its various names to rousing applause, including referring to it with his new xenophobic moniker, “kung flu.”
He took a jab at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who he said had danced “in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco, long after I banned China from coming here,” in a reference to his travel ban on foreigners from mainland China at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. San Francisco’s Chinatown was founded in the 19th century, and many of its residents have families who have lived in the United States for several generations.
The November presidential election is the battleground for the future of the country, Trump said. The president charged his audience to get him reelected so they can defeat what he portrayed as the threat to America of a Democratic victory.
“This is the choice of two futures,” he said. “The left’s vision of disunity and discord, or our vision of equal opportunity and equal justice.”
The president included unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud via mail-in voting, claiming Democrats were trying to rig the election. Democrats have argued for more mail-in voting to prevent large crowds in polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump has previously told POLITICO that mail-in ballots are “my biggest risk” to reelection, and Republicans are fighting a legal battle to bar the expansion of voting options amid the pandemic. Most Arizona voters vote by mail.
The ebullient scene in the church obscures what many see as an uphill battle for the president to hold on to a state that is seen as critical to his reelection.
“Arizona has been one of the most rabid constituencies for Trump,” said Barrett Marson, a political consultant who advises Republican candidates. “It may not be the largest, but it is certainly some of his most rabid fans. But as we have seen, it doesn’t translate necessarily into support at the polls. Whether it’s more than 50 percent is another question.”