Trump Defends Indoor Rally Amid Covid, but Aides Express Concern

Officials said they never considered simply scrapping rallies altogether when their efforts to find an outdoor location failed. For the president, the quiet return of the classic Trumpian political event has been a way to give himself a sense of control during a time when he has little control over events or news cycles. Longtime advisers said they were as important for managing a candidate who needed the cheering crowds to feel energized as they were for energizing the supporters themselves.

Still, the return of the rallies was a reversal for the Trump campaign.

The president told the radio host Hugh Hewitt last month that he did not plan to hold campaign rallies at all because of concerns about the pandemic. “I’d love to do the rallies. We can’t because of the Covid,” Mr. Trump said. “You know, you can’t have people sitting next to each other.”

His critics said the recent rallies in battleground states were more a sign of desperation than of strength. The president is eager to generate news coverage; with 50 days until Election Day, he trails former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate, in battleground state polls and his campaign has pulled down ads as its cash advantage has evaporated. Cable channels have cut back on live coverage of Mr. Trump’s rallies, but local affiliates still often carry them in full.

Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman, defended the decision to carry on with an indoor rally in the middle of a pandemic.

“People are eager to see their president, and our first preference for venues are places like airplane hangars,” he said. “But the fact remains that no one bats an eye at people gambling in casinos or tens of thousands of people protesting shoulder to shoulder. People should be able to gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States.”

But the decision to forge ahead created a wave of internal backlash, including from a top Trump adviser who said the president was playing a game of Russian roulette in holding the indoor rally. The adviser, who requested anonymity so as not to anger Mr. Trump, said the campaign was taking a cavalier approach to the pandemic that could backfire politically. Some of the president’s most vocal defenders outside of the administration agreed.

“Indoor rallies are irresponsible,” Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush and a frequent defender of Mr. Trump’s, wrote on Twitter. “Covid-19 is real and this was a bad idea.”

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