Why Trump’s Minnesota rally is among his most important campaign stops this year | Analysis

President had taken a big step toward catching Joe Biden in key swing states. He took three steps in the other direction on Tuesday night

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Thursday 01 October 2020 14:15 BST
Trump rows back and says he 'doesn't know who the Proud Boys are' after debate outrage

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Donald Trump, once again, finds himself twisting in a web he spun.

This time, the president is facing calls, including from within his own political party, to clearly and definitively denounce all white supremacist groups. He hesitated when first asked if he would do so during his first debate on Tuesday night with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Mr Trump again passed on a chance to do so the next day when asked by reporters as he left for campaigning in Minnesota.

"I don't know who the Proud Boys are,” he claimed. “You’ll have to give me a definition. … I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work [during protests].”

Given yet another chance during his term to once and for all put the issue to pasture, he only poured gasoline on his presidency’s latest controversy by vaguely suggesting he had already said the words he again would not say.

“I’ve always denounced any form. Any form of any of that you, have to denounce,” he said before pivoting in that signature Trumpian way to his general election foe and a sometimes-violent group. “But Joe Biden needs to say something about Antifa. … Now, Antifa is a real problem. … Biden refuses to talk about it.”

Only the former VP has. Asked earlier this month by a Pennsylvania television reporters this, "Do you condemn Antifa?" Mr Biden replied with this: "Yes, I do, violence no matter who it is.” (Notably, he did not say “Antifa.”)

Despite having made up ground in recent weeks in polls in some key battleground states, Mr Trump showed up to Tuesday night’s rally angry and ready to fight. Polls from CBS-YouGov and CNN-SSRS gave the former VP a wide margin of victory among likely voters surveyed following the chaotic spectacle. The president, once again, took three steps back after in recent months having taken a large one forward in Mr Biden's direction.

When he lands in Duluth, Minnesota, for another campaign rally in another battleground state where he trails Mr Biden, Mr Trump’s indirect embrace of the Proud Boys and other white racist groups threatens to turn off the very college-educated suburban voters he needs to win back after losing them in the 2018 congressional midterm elections.

Here are three reasons why Mr Trump’s Wednesday night rally is suddenly so important.

Message sent. Message ignored

Refusing to say a single negative thing about white supremacists ignores ongoing racial tensions and protests across the country and risks alienating undecided moderate voters.

A majority of Americans support ongoing protests after a string of black deaths while those individuals were interacting with white police officers.

What’s more, Mr Trump has consistently been given a failing record by voters over his handling of race relations. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed 56 per cent of respondents favour Mr Biden to handle the matter than the 38 per cent who prefer the president.

Mr Trump could lead the Duluth rally with a clear and forceful condemnation of the Proud Boys and similar groups. But, based on his comments over the last 24 hours, it is clear he knows doing so would leave some of his white, rural conservative base feeling besmirched.

Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s lone black Republican, sent the president a message. It was ignored hours later.

“White supremacy should be denounced at every turn,” Mr Scott told reporters at the Capitol. “I think the president misspoke, and he needs to correct it. If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak.”


The president’s wire-to-wire aggressiveness and ignoring of the debate rules, which saw him interrupt Mr Biden and argue with moderator Chris Wallace for 90 minutes, along with the white supremacist answer threatens to cancel out his strengths.

For instance, he continues to be voters’ preference to rebuild the Covid-slowed economy.

Forty-nine per cent of respondents to the NPR survey approve of his economic stewardship, compared to 44 per cent who disapprove.

Mr Trump allowed himself to be cornered by Mr Wallace and Mr Biden on his seeming support of white supremacist groups, meaning he might lost some undecided voters who still trust him to rebuild the economy more than they do Mr Biden.

So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Despite it all, every controversy and self-inflicted wound, the president remains within striking distance of Mr Biden.

For instance, one new poll out on Tuesday drew headlines for declaring the former VP is up 10 percentage points in Pennsylvania, which experts say Mr Biden cannot lose and still win the White House. But that survey came with a whopping 5-point margin of error. That suggests the Keystone State battle is much closer than polls indicate.

Mr Trump either leads or is within three percentage points in just enough key swing states to show Election Night could become Election Month: Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Georgia and Iowa.

One former US military commander slammed Mr Trump’s debate remarks and said the outcome of November’s election is “existential for the future of our American democracy.”

“One could easily be excused for emerging from last night’s presidential debate convinced that American democracy is under direct assault by the president of the United States,” according to John Allen, the retired Marine Corps general who now is president of the Brookings Institution. “I take absolutely no pleasure in this observation. This is an extraordinarily dangerous moment for our nation, and with so much on the line in this upcoming election, we must unequivocally condemn positions and policies antithetical to who we are as a people.

“This (Proud Boys) is an organization widely condemned as a hate group, with white nationalist rhetoric permeating their every move,” Mr Allen added. “Whatever the president intended with this provocative phrase (“stand back and stand by”) is irrelevant because this group has embraced it as validation of their cause and a call to arms itself.”

It’s simply an unwise time to throw in with the likes of the Proud Boys. Yet, so very Trumpian. Why?

 He simply cannot afford to lose a single vote from what’s left of his 2016 coalition.

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