(CBS) — President Trump said Friday that he hopes to reboot campaign rallies ahead of November’s general election, saying the arena-sized events are “a tremendous way of getting the word out.” Large gatherings have been banned amid the coronavirus pandemic, making political rallies impossible.
“It’s great for the country. It’s great spirit,” Trump remarked Friday. He added later “I hope we’re going to have rallies. I think they’re going to be bigger than ever.”
Trump campaign officials on April 12 signaled a possible return, while reminiscing about the energy inside overflowing arenas on a campaign digital livestream.
“Never fear,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told supporters. “The president is certain that we’re going to be back out there speaking directly to the American people.”
Murtaugh doubled down on his assertion on Friday. “This coronavirus will pass and the president is looking forward to getting back out on the campaign trail and holding rallies,” the spokesperson told CBS News. “We will get back to those rallies.”
Trump hosted nearly three dozen rallies since the beginning of 2019, but over six weeks have passed since Trump’s last rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was held ahead of Super Tuesday. On March 6, as coronavirus began spreading in the U.S. and top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned against large gatherings, Trump said he had “no plans” to stop holding rallies. He said it “doesn’t bother me at all” that there are “tens of thousands of people standing outside the arena.” But eventually, he was forced to call off his “Catholics for Trump” rally that was scheduled for March 19 and there have been none since.
Trump said that while he aspires to entertain stadiums, he prefers a packed crowd to socially distanced events. “I don’t like the rallies where we’re sitting like you’re sitting,” he told reporters seated several feet apart in the White House Briefing Room. “I’m looking at this room, I see all this. It loses a lot of flavor.”
These comments came as thousands of frustrated protesters gathered this week outside state capital buildings in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, some adorned in Trump paraphernalia and all flouting public safety orders from Democratic governors. At a particularly rowdy protest in Lansing, Michigan, residents packed downtown streets wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, waving American flags and chanting “lock her up” outside the capitol in an apparent referent to Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer told CNN the demonstration looked “like a political rally” unfocused on the substance of the state’s stay-at-home order.
Trump took to Twitter Friday, defying federal guidelines instructing states to shutdown, Trump declared, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” in a series of tweets.
The mixed message online followed the Trump administration’s unveil of a three-step plan to gradually reopen the economy, deferring the decision to governors. “You’re gonna call your own shots,” Trump told governors on a conference call Wednesday, according to an audio recording obtained by CBS News. “I’ve gotten to know almost all of you. Most of you I’ve known and some very well beforehand. You’re very capable people. I think in all cases very capable people. And you’re gonna be calling your shots.”
In Virginia – home to the Trump campaign’s Arlington headquarters – Governor Ralph Northam has extended the stay-at-home until June 10. RNC and Trump organizers nationwide shift to digital platforms as the campaign works from home indefinitely. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Trump campaign hosts daily digital livestreams on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, featuring campaign surrogates and racking up hundreds of thousands of views online.
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. relished memories of boisterous campaign rallies bursting with five-figure audiences in a campaign digital stream last week. “There’s no better feeling for me certainly than, you know, being up there on that stage and seeing that kind of warmth,” Trump Jr. told supporters tuning in from behind their computer screens. “It’s just absolutely awesome. So I look forward to getting back and doing that when it makes sense to do it. Right now that’s not the case.”