President Donald Trump paid a visit to Florida on Friday for a roundtable discussion on the dual threat of the new coronavirus and the fast-approaching hurricane season. But he quickly turned the trip to Tampa into an impromptu campaign rally, complete with MAGA hats and music blaring for supporters who awaited his arrival on an airport tarmac.
At the time of his arrival, the Sunshine State had not only hit a grim new milestone with a record 257 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, but it had also closed all government-run COVID-19 testing centers until Tuesday due to the incoming Hurricane Isaias.
Yet he barely mentioned the pandemic, instead launching into his usual greatest hits from campaign rallies, telling the crowd “chaos and bloodshed” will reign if Joe Biden becomes president, and that only he can “defend the American way of life.”
“You’ll have a Portland everywhere” if Biden wins, he said.
Few wore masks at the makeshift campaign event, according to video and photos from the scene. Hours after telling reporters he doesn’t believe his Tulsa rally was to blame for Herman Cain contracting the new coronavirus that killed him earlier this week, Trump again appeared maskless. It was not immediately clear if those in attendance for the outdoor event were required to undergo any testing. The president himself did not wear a face mask at a public appearance until mid-July.
Florida has the second-highest confirmed count of coronavirus cases in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Trump spoke for half an hour to hundreds of supporters on the tarmac of the Tampa International Airport, standing beside more than a dozen sheriffs and deputies from across the state.
“As long as I’m president, I will never defund your police,” he boasted. Of the hurricane, he said, “You’ve seen worse. You’ve seen some beauties.”
Flanked by Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) and Republican governor Ron DeSantis at the event, he repeated his claim that China is to blame for the coronavirus: “Thank you for being here to discuss the relentless work we’re doing to defeat the China virus protect the people of Florida, great state. Just got the endorsement of the sheriffs.” He said a vaccine would come soon.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, thousands of supporters also stood on the road where Trump’s motorcade was set to pass on the way from Tampa International Airport to the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, where he was due to attend a roundtable on COVID-19 and storm preparedness before speaking at a fundraising dinner. The president had a whole weekend of campaign events planned but some of them were nixed at the last minute due to Hurricane Isaias.
The sheriff of nearby Pasco County, Chris Nocco, told supporters that the next time Trump visits, he and others will host a boat parade, according to WFLA.