But instead of offering an empathetic message to the millions affected by the virus as aides wanted, the president, who is 74, has largely focused on his ability to spring back and restart the economy.
“Under my leadership, we are delivering a safe vaccine and a rapid recovery,” Trump pledged. “If you vote for me, prosperity will surge, normal life will fully resume, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country.”
Trump claimed Biden would “terminate our recovery, delay the vaccine, prolong the pandemic, and annihilate Pennsylvania’s economy with a draconian unscientific lockdown.”
The president gave a special shout-out to others who had contracted the virus, claiming they were now immune from the disease. A smattering of reports have recounted people contracting the virus weeks or months after recovering from Covid. But Trump dismissed those as a ploy to discredit him.
“Who’s had it?” Trump asked the audience, to slight applause. “Yeah, a lot of people. … Well you’re the people I want to say hello to today because right now, you’re immune. You’re right now immune. Or they say that. You know, they hate to admit because I had it. So, in the old days they said, well, if you have it, you’re immune for life. Once I got it, they give you four months.”
Just as aides are letting Trump loose in the weeks leading up to the election, Republicans have inched their way back from the president and his handling of the pandemic as they try to focus on getting Judge Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the Supreme Court and hold on to Senate races that are slipping away even in traditional GOP strongholds like Texas.
“There’s a chance he could get back to where he was before the debate, but that’s still a losing place to be,” said Brendan Buck, who was an adviser to then-House Speaker Paul Ryan. “Every theory or case you hear from him coming back starts with the premise of him doing something responsible and disciplined, and we have seen for many years now he is largely incapable of that.”
Buck added that “the whole concept that he was going to take from Covid a new approach and show he understands it better and will be more responsible and show he’s a leader, that’s just not who he is.”
The president is eager to get back out on the campaign trail, aides say, and he has missed hearing the cheering crowds at Make America Great Again rallies after they were canceled because of his diagnosis. His first public event following his bout with the virus was a rally-like gathering on the White House South Lawn on Saturday afternoon, but he spoke for less than 20 minutes, an uncharacteristically short amount of time. On Monday night in Florida, Trump spoke for over an hour.
The Biden and Trump campaigns have both zeroed in on Pennsylvania in recent weeks.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and the president’s personal attorney, visited Philadelphia on Columbus Day for an “Italians for Trump” event and Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, will visit Boiling Springs on Wednesday.
Biden plans to attend a town hall in Philadelphia on Thursday, which would have been the same night as the second presidential debate, and traveled to Erie over the weekend.
The Trump campaign recently lost a voting lawsuit in Pennsylvania over the state’s poll-watching laws and the campaign’s request to block drop boxes for the state’s vote-by-mail system. Even as the president has continued to rail against widespread voter fraud, U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan of the Western District of Pennsylvania wrote in his ruling that the Trump campaign failed to prove that any fraud was “certainly impending.”
Matthew Choi contributed to this report.