John Fritze and David Jackson
Published 8:59 PM EDT Sep 3, 2020
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump dismissed questions about his health and an unexpected hospital visit last fall during an extended riff at a rally Thursday in Pennsylvania, telling supporters the issue was a conspiracy concocted by critics.
“They want to try to get me to be in Biden’s physical level,” Trump said, referencing his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. “I don’t like rumors like that. It’s not true.”
Trump – who has repeatedly raised unfounded questions about Biden’s own health – was responding to a new book about the Trump presidency 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 “mini-strokes.” 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 defended his response to the coronavirus during the rally, but spent far less time discussing the pandemic or its economic consequences than other issues.
“Before the coronavirus, this election was over,” Trump told the raucous crowd outside of Pittsburgh, asserting he would have been able to cancel campaigning this year if the virus hadn’t struck the country as hard as it has. “We’re rounding that turn.”
Trump also mocked Biden for wearing a mask, suggesting the former vice president occasionally hangs a mask from one ear because 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.
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.
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.