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With COVID surging in Michigan, Trump touts ‘beautiful turn’ in virus fight

WATERFORD TOWNSHIP — The United States is “rounding the corner” on COVID-19, President Donald Trump argued Friday, minimizing the pandemic one day after Michigan reported a record number of new cases and rising hospitalizations and deaths.

“You live with it, and you know what to do,” said Trump, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus this month but quickly returned to the campaign, hosting frequent outdoor rallies as he seeks to hold off Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

 

“We understand it now. We’re making that beautiful turn, and the vaccines are coming.”

The president spoke to a crowd of thousands at the Oakland County International Airport, a suburban region where polls suggest he’s struggling to connect with educated and affluent voters, especially women. 

The Friday campaign stop marked the start of a final weekend blitz in which Trump plans to return to Michigan on Sunday, to Sterling Heights before closing his campaign in Grand Rapids on Monday.

Biden plans appearances in Flint and Detroit on Saturday, along with former President Barack Obama.

‘It goes away’

While experts say a COVID-19 vaccine is unlikely to be widely available until mid-2021, Trump told his supporters one may be coming in “a couple of weeks” and will be provided first to seniors and medical professionals. 

The president noted the death rate is down considerably from early in the pandemic as therapeutic treatments improve, which is true. He attributed rising case counts to increased testing and suggested hospitals are inflating COVID deaths for financial gain, repeating a claim medical professions have called appalling and untrue

“If you get it, you’re going to get better, then you’re going to be immune, and it’s a whole thing and it goes away,” the president said. 

That belies the reality in Michigan, where officials on Thursday reported a record 3,675 cases with an 8.9 percent testing positive rate, well above the 3 percent rate the state had hovered at in recent months. 

Michigan also reported 41 deaths, up from a daily average of nine in September and 18 in August. 

While some of his supporters wore masks, which many state and federal health officials say is the best tool to fight COVID spread until a vaccine is widely available, Trump appeared amused to see FOX News host Laura Ingraham wear a face-covering in the crowd. 

“I’ve never seen you wearing a mask,” Trump said. “She’s being very politically correct.”

The president continued to criticize the COVID-19 response of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has become a favorite target of Trump in stump speeches across the country.

“We got to get your governor to open up your state here, don’t we?” he said, prompting the crowd to chant “lock her up” about Whitmer, who has accused Trump of fomenting violence after law enforcement foiled a paramilitary plot to kidnap and potentially kill her.  

“Not me, not me,” Trump said, keeping his distance from a chant he encouraged two weeks ago in Muskegon. “They blame me every time that happens.”

Factory jobs

Speaking in a state where the auto industry remains a dominant force, Trump returned to familiar themes in his critique of Biden, bashing the Democrat over his past support of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the president replaced early this year.

“Joe Biden is going to lock down your state, wipe out your factories and ship out your jobs,” the president said. 

Biden has touted deep ties to the auto industry, most notably his role in the 2009 bailout expansion that saved auto industry jobs by helping General Motors and Chrysler avoid collapse.

But Trump blamed Biden for failing to protect Delphi retirees whose pensions were slashed when the GM parts supplier exited bankruptcy that same year. The president last week ordered a review of those pension cuts, which impacted about 20,000 workers in Ohio, Michigan, New York and Indiana.

“They threw these people under the bus,” Trump said. 

The president touted new auto factories and industry investments coming to Michigan, where FCA is constructing what will be Detroit’s first new assembly plan in nearly 30 years.

The importance of Oakland County

Oakland County is a focal point in the Michigan election, and one where Democrats are expecting to gain ground in the battle for the state House. 

Trump lost Oakland by more than 8 percentage points in 2016, and polling suggests his popularity has declined further in the metro Detroit county, the second most populous in the state.

“It’s hard to gauge” what’s happening with Trump and suburban women, said Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who lives just across the border in the Wayne County portion of Northville. “We are not monolithic voters.”

Trump’s push for a vaccine could help him win back some women concerned about COVID, McDaniel predicted. 

While Biden claims he’ll only raise taxes on those making more than $400,000 a year, the threat of a tax increase could turn off “a lot of families, especially suburban families,” she said.

Trump’s struggle with suburban women is part of the reason he’s consistently trailed in most Michigan polls. But he trailed in the polls in 2016 too before a late surge that even Republicans didn’t know was real until the final weekend.

“We are seeing movement,” McDaniel said. “It was the Saturday before the Tuesday election in 2016 when I got the call — ‘Michigan’s in play — from the national party. I had seen that down on the ground, and I feel the same dynamics happening here.”

‘100 percent’ for Trump

Trump supporters braved near-freezing temperatures to line up outside the Oakland County Airport early Friday, hours ahead of the president’s runway speech. 

Some brought Trump blankets and wore winter hats beneath their ubiquitous Make America Great Again caps.

“I’m a suburban housewife, and I am for Trump 100 percent,” said Janet Rolfes of Brighton, who runs a financial advisory firm with her husband. 

“We were shut down [early] in COVID, working from home, and we saw great relief from [the federal stimulus.] It was a huge help to get us through that time.”

Trump signed the $3.1 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March after bipartisan passage in Congress. With the economy still sputtering and COVID cases again surgoing, talks over additional federal relief have fizzled amid partisan in-fighting. 

Still, the initial assistance was a huge help, said Carol Reyes of Bay City, who qualified for enhanced unemployment benefits after a temporary layoff from the law firm where she works as an office manager. 

“We’ve never had a president who has spoken so openly about pro-life, and that is the No. 1 issue for me,” Reyes said. “Everything people were afraid of when he got elected, it has not happened.”

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