LONDONDERRY, N.H. (Reuters) – Fresh from accepting the Republican nomination, U.S. President Donald Trump had harsh words for anti-racism protesters on Friday during a campaign stop in the politically important state of New Hampshire.
Addressing a crowd in an airport hangar, Trump called the demonstrators who sought to disrupt his White House speech on Thursday night “thugs” and said Senator Rand Paul could have died when he was swarmed by protesters afterwards.
Paul said on Friday he was attacked by an “angry mob” of more than 100 people near the White House and had to be rescued by the police.
“He’d either be in very bad shape, or dead, and that would include his wife, if those policemen didn’t happen to be there,” Trump said of the Republican senator.
The president has emphasized a “law and order” theme to motivate his political base and attract more voters as he trails former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in national polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
“You know what I say? Protesters, your ass. I don’t talk about my ass,” he said. “They’re not protesters. Those aren’t protesters. Those are anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.”
Trump has been criticized for not showing empathy in the wake of shootings and killings of Black men by police, including George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May, sparking anti-racism demonstrations worldwide.
New protests erupted in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week after police officers shot Jacob Blake, another African-American man, multiple times in front of his children. He survived.
Thousands of people took part in a march in Washington on Friday to denounce racism.
Trump has not commented extensively about Blake, but he spoke extensively about protesters on Friday without specifying which demonstration he was talking about.
“They’re just looking for trouble. This has nothing to do with George Floyd, has nothing to do with anything. They don’t even know who George Floyd is,” he said.
Biden and his running mate, vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris, said Trump was making America less safe with his rhetoric and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The President incites violence, inspires white-supremacist shooters, and his failed COVID response is costing thousands of lives per day. When you look at the world right now, ask yourself: Do you feel safe in Trump’s America?” Biden tweeted.
“He (Trump) has been obsessed, I think, with spreading fear and using division to protect his own ego, and more fundamentally to erode the foundations of the democracy that he swore to defend,” Harris said at a fundraiser on Friday.
CLOSE NEW HAMPSHIRE RACE
Trump, whose speech to the Republican National Convention was low key compared to his rally appearances, seemed to find his footing in New Hampshire, a state he lost narrowly to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and where he is trailing Biden this year.
He went over some of his favorite themes, including his insistence that Mexico would pay for a wall along the U.S. border and that Democrats would try to slash funding for law enforcement.
Biden has rejected calls from the left to “defund” the police, but Trump has erroneously suggested that is a policy Biden would embrace.
Trump, who has criticized Biden for campaigning mostly from his Delaware home because of the pandemic, intends to travel extensively in the coming months to boost his momentum.
He has not been able to hold his signature large rallies for most of the virus outbreak. A June rally at an indoor arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attracted a crowd that was well below capacity. The area experienced an uptick in coronavirus cases for weeks after the event.
Trump had to cancel a July rally in New Hampshire over concerns about a tropical storm off the East Coast.
Biden expects his in-person campaign travel to pick up after Labor Day on Sept. 7, telling lawyers at an online fundraising event on Thursday he was considering traveling to battleground states including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
“We’re going to get out and meet people where it matters, not at irresponsible rallies or staged for TV to boost egos, but real people’s communities, in real local businesses, in their lives,” Biden said. “I’m going to keep everyone safe.”
Some 21.6 million Americans watched Trump’s keynote speech on Thursday night, according to preliminary ratings data on Friday that suggested a lower TV audience for Trump than Biden. Trump, a former reality television star, cares deeply about ratings.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Michael Martina, Andy Sullivan, and Joseph Ax; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)