Duluth: The last rally

Robert Boone

Not since Alfred Hitchcock has there been such a recognizable shadow. Rally photos by Robert Boone.

The scene at the Duluth International Airport last Wednesday night (Sept. 30) with blustery 40-degree temperatures, light rain and brisk wind, was far from dreary. A boisterous crowd of about 3,000 people awaited at a private hanger for the arrival of Air Force One.

President Donald Trump’s heretofore relentless campaign landed in Duluth five weeks out from the Nov. 3 general election.

Duluth hosted the last crowd of any scale to see Mr. Trump before his coronavirus diagnosis, which shocked the world early Friday.

Duluth plays an outsize role in Trump’s reelection plan. Duluth itself is a fairly liberal city; however, our media market also serves the more conservative Iron Range, and blue-collar Northwest Wisconsin, which have historically voted Democratic, but have also been trending Republican in recent elections.

Although this year features relatively little campaign travel, Trump has focused inordinate attention on Northern Minnesota, dispatching Donald Trump, Jr. and Vice President Pence to Duluth and appearing himself in Bemidji. Several mayors from the region have publicly endorsed him.

Even as experts questioned the wisdom of bringing large groups of people together, Mr. Trump’s campaign had recently staged a series of such rallies at airports in battleground states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Hampshire and — now Duluth.

Two days later, after the White House admitted that Mr. Trump was infected with the coronavirus, those in attendance at the Duluth rally and government officials are grappling with the consequences of the announcement.

Crowds line up to see Trump. Note social distancing.

The Speech

Mr. Trump spoke for about 45 minutes, pumping his fists and tossing hats into the adoring crowd. Chants of “U-S-A” and “four more years” were common. Trump’s speech was full of promises to open up more mines and create jobs. Trump said that if reelected, he would allow permits for copper-nickel mines and noted his reversal of the Obama administration’s decision to not allow mineral leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Mr. Trump said “Obama closed the Iron Range and I opened it,” which does not accurately reflect that closed mines were reopened by the end of Obama’s term in 2016. “The biggest thing I did was knock out his executive order.” Trump later stated that he also supported the controversial Enbridge Line 3 replacement pipeline.

Mr. Trump stated that he would bring school choice to every parent, and stop what he called the radicalization of American children by the left. “We are launching a new pro-American lesson plan,” he said.

Mr. Trump spoke about ending “endless wars,” his Middle East peace efforts, and his Nobel Prize nominations. He bragged that the U.S. would land the first woman on the moon and put an astronaut on Mars.

Guy Holmes of Virginia is a 40 year veteran of the mining industry and believes that “President Trump has done a number of things helpful for our industry.” He cited in particular placing tariffs on Chinese steel.

Mr. Trump mused about serving “16 more years” as president, called Biden “too weak to lead our country,” and said, “If I lose Minnesota, I’m never coming back.”
COVID-19 safety measures were spotty at best. Attendees were screened, offered masks and submitted to temperature checks at the entrance. Hand sanitizer stations were available.

The Trump campaign simply ignored the emergency measures which cap outdoor gatherings at 250 people, and made little attempt to space people 6 feet apart.
The dichotomy was obvious from the press hanger. Virtually all of the approximately 30 journalists wore masks. On the opposite side, the bleachers behind Trump were filled with loggers and VIPs, all sporting masks. The fact that they would be in focus on most of the press photos and video was surely simply a coincidence. In between Mr. Trump and the press hanger, a sea of 3,000 red-clad supporters sat elbow to elbow, approximately 95 percent mask-free.

Sophie Galchus of Duluth believes it is great that Trump came to Minnesota, and said, “President Trump stands for all of us.”

The Repercussions

Minnesota state health officials issued guidance about the president’s visit on Friday.
“Anyone who was in direct contact with President Trump or known Covid-19 cases needs to quarantine and should get tested,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division.

Ms. Ehresmann went on to say: “There is a potential risk that transmission occurred at the Duluth rally and other events associated with President Trump’s visit.”
“Community transmission of the coronavirus was high in the county before the rally, and people at the rally may have been infectious without knowing it,” Ms. Ehresmann said, so the department is focusing on slowing the secondary transmission which may result thereafter.

Air Force One lands at the Duluth International Airport.

The Duluth area has been averaging more than 60 COVID-19 cases per day over the last week, the highest level yet since the pandemic erupted.

Trump spokesman Tim Murtaugh was unapologetic for holding the rally in Duluth, stating “if people can protest in the streets by the thousands, then they can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States.” Murtaugh said that as to the possibility of Trump returning to the campaign circuit, “We’ll leave that to the president’s medical team.”

Kurt Daudt, the Minnesota House minority leader, met with Mr. Trump at an airport in Minnesota on Wednesday. “I am not currently experiencing any symptoms, but out of an abundance of caution I am being tested again on Friday for Covid-19 after testing negative on Tuesday ahead of the president’s visit,” Daudt stated. “I will remain in self-quarantine until results are received.”

In the large happy crowd, social distancing was not a priority, nor masks.

Republican candidate for the Senate Jason Lewis shook hands with Mr. Trump at the rally.  A spokeswoman for Lewis said that he is displaying no symptoms, but “out of an abundance of caution he has already begun the self-quarantine process and will be getting COVID tested as soon as possible.”

By Friday evening, as Mr. Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his two rallies scheduled in Green Bay and Janesville, Wisconsin had been canceled. Since then, over 20 of Mr. Trump’s closest associates have tested positive, with a super-spreader event at the Rose Garden suspected.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson spoke out against Trump’s visit. “We have a white supremacist in the White House who cares only about himself, who says he is about law and order, but I can guarantee you is coming into my community, disregarding the laws of health and safety for Minnesotans,” Larson said on Wednesday. “I am not about him. I am about this community. I’m about the state. I am about this country, and I am about Joe Biden.”

Police haul out a protester.

Ken Martin, chairman of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said in a prepared statement: The House members’ “stupidity and disregard for the well-being of their fellow passengers is staggering,”

The Democratic president of the Duluth City Council, Gary Anderson, on Sunday said that Trump “took risks with the health of our community, clearly, and I think that’s how our community is worse off in the most direct way.”

Although questions remain as to when it was first learned that Trump was COVID-19 positive; White House physician Dr. Sean Conley initially stated that as of Friday, Mr. Trump “was 72 hours into the diagnosis” which would indicate that Mr. Trump was COVID-19 positive at the time of the Duluth rally. This information has since been replaced with other contradictory statements as to the timeline for Mr. Trump’s illness. It certainly remains a possibility that he was infectious while in Duluth, and Duluth may well be the last large rally before the election.

Everyone in the VIP bleachers behind the president wore masks, while elsewhere in the rally very few people did.

Demonstrators line the road where President Trump’s supporters drive and bus in for the rally at the Duluth International Airport. Protest photos by Richard Thomas.

Linda and Mark Chapman raise signs outside the Trump rally. They live in Jordan, Minn. but she is originally from Duluth and he is a 1984 UMD graduate.

Protesters burn Trump campaign flags.