Regrouping after a humbling weekend rally, U.S. President Donald Trump faces another test of his ability to draw a crowd during a pandemic Tuesday as he visits Arizona and tries to remind voters of one of his key 2016 campaign promises.
Trump’s weekend rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had been meant to be a sign of the nation’s reopening and a show of political force but instead generated thousands of empty seats and swirling questions about the president’s campaign leadership and his case for another four years in office. The low turnout has sharpened the focus on Trump’s visit to Arizona, which doubles as both a 2020 battleground state and a surging coronavirus hot spot.
READ MORE: Trump’s low rally turnout shows U.S. still cautious over coronavirus risk, experts say
First, the president will travel to Yuma to mark the construction of more than 200 miles (322 kilometres) of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, an issue that he built his campaign on four years ago. Later, he’ll address a group of young Republicans at a Phoenix megachurch, where event organizers have pledged thousands will attend.
Throughout the trip, the COVID-19 pandemic will shadow Trump. The Democratic mayor of Phoenix made clear that she does not believe the speech can be safely held in her city — and urged the president to wear a face mask.
Trump has refused to wear a mask in public, instead turning it into a red-vs.-blue cultural issue. Polling suggests that Republicans are far less likely to wear a face-covering than Democrats despite health experts’ warnings that it dramatically reduces the risk of transmitting the virus.
The “Students for Trump” event will be held at the Dream City Church and broadcast to groups across the nation. Students for Trump is a special project of Turning Point Action, a grouped chaired by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, which is hosting the president for his address. Organizers said health and safety measures still were being finalized and it was unclear if attendees would be asked to wear masks or keep socially distant.
Since late May, Arizona has emerged as one of the nation’s most active hot spots for the spread of COVID-19. Use of hospitals, intensive care units and ventilators has set daily records over the past week.
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Photos of restaurants and bars crowded with unmasked patrons ignited controversy. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, a Trump supporter, reversed himself last week and allowed cities and counties to require people to wear masks in public places. Most have, including Phoenix and Yuma and the counties that surround them.
Arizona is seeing disturbing trends in several benchmarks, including the percentage of tests that prove positive for the virus, which is the highest in the nation.
The state’s positive test rate is at a seven-day average of 20.4 per cent, well above the national average of 8.4 per cent and the 10 per cent level that public health officials say is a problem.