President Trump in two separate interviews on Tuesday indicated that he may not be holding any more in-person rallies before the Nov. 3 presidential election due to coronavirus concerns, a blow to the candidate who thrives on stage, riling up crowds with his fiery speeches attacking opponents and touting his own accomplishments.
“You can’t have empty seats,” Trump said to Travis while discussing some of the college football crowds he’s seen, which he said impressed him compared to NFL crowds. “If I had five empty seats, for instance, they said, when I do a rally, sir, the reason I won’t do them because you can’t have one seat and then seven around that seat, sir, have to be empty. Oh, that’ll look great.”
Trump added: “You have one person and everything’s … empty around them. You can’t do that. And I’m not sure that college football can do it but we’ll have to see.”
Later in the day the Big Ten and PAC-12 conferences, two of the NCAA’s “Power Five” conferences, each canceled their fall sports seasons over coronavirus concerns.
And with Hewitt, Trump said that his campaign “can’t” hold rallies because of social distancing requirements — though he did brag that as he drives to and from engagements in swing states like Ohio, Texas and Florida, the road is lined with “the largest crowds on the highway I’ve ever seen.”
“I’d love to do the rallies,” Trump said. “We can’t because of the COVID. You know, you can’t have people sitting next to each other.”
The Trump campaign isn’t stopping all in-person activities. Its ground game has visited over 1 million potential voters and it’s still holding a number of smaller, in-person events. Last week it held an “Evangelicals for Trump” event in a Las Vegas casino, thumbing its nose at a rule in the state that caps attendance to houses of worship more strictly than the similar rule that applies to casinos. Vice President Pence will be in Iowa Thursday for a “Farmers & Ranchers for Trump” event. And there are other, smaller in-person events scheduled on the campaign’s website.
But the coronavirus looms large over any in-person activities the campaign does. A spokesperson for the city of Las Vegas told Fox News last week that the city had been in touch with the organizers of the Evangelicals for Trump event to remind them of requirements like social distancing and mask-wearing. And an outdoor rally the campaign had scheduled for New Hampshire was canceled in late July ostensibly for weather-related reasons but has not been rescheduled.
The Trump campaign came under intense scrutiny for its decision to hold a large, in-person rally in Tulsa, Okla., in June. Following the rally, at least two Trump campaign staffers tested positive for the virus, as well as reportedly at least two Secret Service agents, according to the Washington Post, tested positive for the virus. The Tulsa event in the BOK Center, though not nearly filled to capacity, still drew thousands of attendees, most of whom were not wearing masks. Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was also in attendance and not wearing a mask. He died in late July of complications from the novel coronavirus.
It is not clear that the individuals who tested positive got the virus while at the Trump rally, due to how difficult the virus is to track and how long it can take to cause symptoms in the people it infects. But the indoor, crowded, non-socially distant event is something health officials have warned for months can accelerate the spread of the coronavirus.
The Republican National Convention has similarly been handicapped by the coronavirus. It was initially set to happen in North Carolina before strict coronavirus regulations there led the party to move its celebratory events to Jacksonville, Fla. But a surge in coronavirus cases there made it not feasible to hold in-person events, so while the business of the convention will still happen in Charlotte, the celebration will take place through virtual programming, including a Trump speech either from the White House or Gettysburg National Military Park.
Fox News’ Julia Musto contributed to this report.