Trump fumes over Biden ad, media coverage at Nevada rally

MINDEN, Nev. – President Donald Trump set the tone early on at his rally in northern Nevada Saturday night, warning that he was prepared to “be really vicious” in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

Fuming over a new ad about his alleged disparagement of U.S. military personnel, Trump arrived here with a torrent of insults ready to go. “Pathetic Joe. He’s a pathetic human being to allow that to happen,” Trump said of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and the ad Biden’s campaign released last week, which seized on comments Trump reportedly made about America’s fallen soldiers.

“But you know the good part?” Trump continued. “Now I can be really vicious. Once I saw that ad, I don’t have to be nice anymore.”

The president also claimed Biden, “doesn’t know he’s alive.”

“Sleepy Joe Biden. You know where he is now? He’s in his damn basement again,” Trump told the crowd.

He accused Nevada’s Democratic governor of trying to “rig the election,” after Trump campaign officials were forced to move the Saturday night rally out of Reno, Nev. due to Covid-19 restrictions forbidding large crowds in the state. And he charged his political opponents with trying to “hurt” efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine. The president also said the only way he would lose the election in November is if Democrats “rig” it.

Trump’s fiery appearance at an airport hangar in Douglas County, which he carried by more than 30 percentage points in 2016, capped off a turbulent week for his reelection campaign, with aides left to play defense after taped interviews emerged of the president admitting to downplaying the dangers of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, when the virus first reached the United States. Upon landing in the Silver State, Trump told reporters the pandemic is “rounding the corner” and repeated his unlikely claim that a vaccine will be available before the end of the year.

But coronavirus seemed far from the president’s mind when he stood before supporters on Saturday, railing against “bird cemeteries” that accumulate beneath wind turbines, dismissing concerns about “lock her up” chants that remain a staple of his rallies, and claiming Biden will be praised for his performance at the first presidential debate as long as he “gets off the stage” safely.

It was an odd sequence of attacks for the president to offload in Nevada, where his campaign is attempting to court enough Hispanic voters to overcome the razor-thin margin he lost the state by in 2016 — and potentially offset losses elsewhere.

The president’s campaign has spent months devising a backup plan that could get him to 270 electoral votes should he lose one or more of the Rust Belt states he flipped four years ago, focusing heavily on areas where his law-and-order message could break through and where polling shows marginal growth in his minority support.

Nevada is among the locations his campaign is targeting as they work to rebuild enthusiasm around his handling of the U.S. economy and solidify his support with Hispanic voters. Coronavirus-related lockdowns decimated the local economy in Las Vegas this summer after casinos and hotels were forced to shutter in accordance with statewide restrictions on large gatherings and indoor services. In Reno, doors were shut at local casinos for nearly two months this summer creating a major loss in room tax revenue across the industry.

Along with Arizona, where the president is traveling on Monday, Nevada is also a state where campaign aides believe Trump’s expanded Latino support could make a difference in November. Latinos account for roughly 19 percent of Nevada’s eligible voting population.

Towards the end of his winding, 90-minute speech Saturday night, the president nodded towards Hispanic voters’ pivotal role in the state and, potentially, the country, touting a poll that he claimed showed he is leading Biden among that block of voters

In reality, Biden is leading Trump by double-digits among Hispanics nationally, although a Marist-NBC survey released Wednesday showed Trump with a 4-point edge among Hispanic voters in Florida. That’s raised questions about a potential tectonic shift in Hispanic support toward the incumbent Republican, after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton carried two-thirds of Florida Hispanics in 2016.

And it’s another reason for alarm among Democrats, some of whom have been criticizing the Biden campaign for months for their lack of effort in Hispanic communities in Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

Until September, the Trump campaign had outspent Biden on Spanish-language television. The Biden campaign, however, recently told POLITICO it had increased its ad spending, surpassing Trump on Spanish-language channels last week, and also beefed up its Hispanic-outreach staff.

One official involved with the Trump campaign claimed the president’s support among Hispanic voters nationally has reached 30 to 35 percent in some internal polls, though the official declined to share the data with POLITICO.

Trump allies have a number of rationales for his rise in popularity among Hispanics. Some claim the pre-pandemic economy, which saw the Hispanic unemployment rate hit a record low of 3.9 percent a year ago, helped more Hispanics feel comfortable supporting the president, despite his record of racially insensitive rhetoric and policies. Others believe Biden has embraced policy positions that alienate Hispanic Catholics and workers in parts of Nevada, Arizona and Florida.

Trump suggested Saturday night he would do well with Hispanic voters in November because they “like tough people, they like people who are going to produce jobs. And by the way Hispanics know the border better than anyone.”