WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump hit the campaign trail Monday as part of his effort to offer a counter message to the Democratic National Convention this week, touching down in Minnesota and Wisconsin for three scaled-down outdoor campaign rallies.
Trump criticized his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, mocked Democrats for moving their convention online and continued to accuse them of trying to abuse mail-in ballots, a claim he levels without evidence.
"The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged," Trump said during a rally in Wisconsin. "Remember that."
Trump, who relished the crowds that previously packed arenas for his rallies, has been sidelined from campaigning since the coronavirus outbreak began in March. He held a rally in June in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that came under scrutiny for not implementing enough safety precautions. A rally planned in New Hampshire in July was canceled.
But as the Democrats kicked off their virtual convention Monday, Trump made three campaign stops in Wisconsin and Minnesota, two states that are pivotal to his re-election bid.
Trump has strategically deployed news-making comments in the past to distract from his political opponents.
On the flight back to Washington, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he would be issuing a pardon Tuesday for someone “very, very important." Trump said the person was not Michael Flynn or Edward Snowden.
While campaigning, Trump mocked Democrats for moving their convention almost entirely online because of concerns about the coronavirus, telling supporters in Oshkosh, “Who wants to listen to Michelle Obama do a taped speech?”
“I wonder, is Joe Biden taping his speech, too? Because if he is, I think I’ll tape mine. How do you watch it taped?” Trump continued, suggesting the former vice president is incapable of delivering a live speech. “I would imagine Joe is going to do everything he can to tape it.”
Biden, who halted in-person campaigning during the pandemic, has repeatedly delivered live remarks before reporters. Biden is expected to deliver live remarks Thursday to formally accept the Democratic nomination. Former President Barack Obama and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Biden's running mate, among others, are also expected to give live speeches.
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Trump started Monday speaking to supporters on an airport tarmac in Minneapolis, continued on to Mankato, Minnesota, and ended in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Trump announced in Oshkosh that he would deliver his acceptance speech live from the White House on Thursday of next week, ending weeks of speculation after he called off plans to hold a large rally-like event in Jacksonville, Florida.
"We’re doing a real speech on Thursday, next Thursday, so you’ll be listening. Doing it live from the White House," Trump said.
Former government officials and watchdogs have warned that Trump would violate ethics norms by holding a political speech at the White House. Administration officials involved with the event could also be in jeopardy of violating the Hatch Act, experts say.
Trump also made multiple jokes Monday about seeking additional terms after this election. The Constitution limits the president to two terms.
"But if I don’t win [Minnesota] this time I'm never coming back. Never. Not for term three, four, five or six," Trump said in Mankato.
Later, in Oshkosh, Trump said: "We are going to win four more years. And then after that we'll go for another four years, because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years."
Trump, whose campaign has had difficulty landing on a messaging strategy to attack the Biden-Harris ticket, continued to try to sow discord among the Democrats, saying "nobody treated Joe Biden worse than Kamala."
Trump lamented the smaller campaign events Monday, telling his supporters, "We’re not allowed to do rallies.”
Trump joked with attendees that the crowd could be called “peaceful protest” so social distancing rules did not apply.
“That’s what they call it in New York and Portland and all these places," Trump said. "I grant you a pardon."
The president is expected to continue his counterprogramming events Tuesday in Arizona and Thursday in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden's hometown.