WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump dismissed questions about his own health and mocked his Democratic opponent for wearing a mask in a freewheeling rally Thursday in Pennsylvania that came as polls show a tightening race.
For a second day, Trump dismissed questions about an unscheduled visit he made to Walter Reed Medical Center in November, brushing aside a report about the visit as a conspiracy concocted by critics. At the same time, Trump raised unfounded questions about Joe Biden’s own health, and criticized his mask-wearing.
“They want to try to get me to be in Biden’s physical level,” Trump told a crowded rally held in airport hangar outside of Pittsburgh. “I don’t like rumors like that. It’s not true.”
Trump was responding to a new book that asserted Vice President Mike Pence had been put on “standby” to take over the powers of the presidency during Trump’s unexpected visit to Walter Reed Medical Center in November.
The White House has said Trump went to Walter Reed as part of his annual physical.
Though the book, written by New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt, doesn’t mention the health issue in question, Trump has latched on to questions raised by his critics on social media about whether he had suffered a series of “ministrokes.” There is no evidence to support the notion that Trump suffered a stroke of any kind.
Trump has increasingly focused on the story in recent days, using it as part of an effort to delegitimize critics.
“Then yesterday I read that I had strokes – ministrokes, they called them,” Trump said. “I don’t know what a ministroke is, but it’s not good.”
Trump spent far less time discussing the pandemic or its economic consequences. After telling his audience to wear a mask if they celebrated Labor Day weekend with others, he went on to rip Biden for frequently appearing in public with a mask.
“Did you ever see a man who likes a mask as much as him?” Trump asked a crowd that, based on images posted to social media, appeared to be largely mask free. “It gives him a feeling of security.”
The Biden campaign mocked Trump for talking about his health.
“Why is he talking about mini-strokes?,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a tweet directed at a counterpart with the Trump campaign.
Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Trump’s frequent refusal to wear a mask has nothing to do with health and everything to do with “vanity.”
“He didn’t like the way he looked and thought it made him look weak,” Reiner said. “This is what happened when the president’s narcissism collided with the needs of the country. Narcissism won.”
Trump touched down in Latrobe about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh shortly before 7 p.m. ET and spoke at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport – continuing a recent pattern of campaigning in partially outdoor airport hangars amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump acknowledged that “we’re doing the hangar thing now because the arenas, can’t do that because of the pandemic.” Trump said he preferred the airport rallies because he could just get off the plane, give a speech “and get the hell out of here.”
The rally is Trump’s second major campaign event since the Republican National Convention last week – he rallied in New Hampshire on Friday – and comes at a time when conventional wisdom suggests many are just beginning to tune into the race.
The rally was another example of the president’s campaign bringing together a large crowd for an event at a time when Trump is eager to present an image of the country returning to normal. Trump held a crowded rally in New Hampshire last week and, days earlier, gathered a large group on the South Lawn – an outdoor venue – to hear his acceptance speech at the party’s convention.
Both campaigns predicted the race would tighten after Biden held double digit leads throughout much of the summer, and there are signs that is beginning to take shape. Biden was leading Trump 50%-43% in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll published this week. That advantage narrowed from the 12-point edge he held in June.
In Pennsylvania, Biden holds a 4-point lead over Trump among registered voters and a 1- to 3-point lead among likely voters, according to a Monmouth University Poll this week. Patrick Murray, director of the poll, described the race as a “game of inches.”
Trump has largely re-tooled his stump speech to focus more heavily on criticizing Biden and defending his administration’s response to the pandemic and the economic fallout it has caused. He started attacking Biden right off the bat on Thursday.
“Joe Biden wants to surrender your jobs to China,” he said, without providing evidence to back up that unfounded claim.
Latrobe is best known as the birthplace of golfer Arnold Palmer, whose charisma and aggressive style of play drew thousands to the sport during the 1950s and 1960s.
Trump, an avid golfer, referenced Palmer early in his remarks.
“What a great guy he was,” the president said.
President Donald Trump speaks a rally at an airport hanger in Londonderry, New Hampshire, Aug. 28, 2020.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump rallies in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, as race with Biden tightens