MANKATO, MINN. – President Donald Trump said the country will sink into “left wing fascism” if former Vice President Joe Biden beats him in November, portraying the election as a choice between stability and chaos on a campaign swing in Minnesota Monday.
In speeches at airports here and in Minneapolis, Trump repeatedly cited the recent riots in the Twin Cities to rail against Minnesota Democrats and efforts to reform police.
And Biden, who will officially become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee on Tuesday, “doesn’t know what the hell is happening,” Trump said.
“Joe Biden is the puppet of left-wing extremists trying to erase our borders, eliminate our police, indoctrinate our children, vilify our heroes,” he said.
Trump’s derisive tone played well with the supporters — kept in the hundreds because of coronavirus — who were invited to hear him.
Minnesota, which has supported Democratic candidates in every presidential election since 1976, is a battleground state this year. Polls show Biden holds a lead in the state, but several are within the statistical margin of error.
“If we win Minnesota, it’s over,” Trump said.
The White House billed Trump’s visit as a chance to discuss the economy with small-business owners and farmers who lifted him to office four years ago. But his ability to use the economy as political weapon has been diminished by the effects of the virus, which pushed the country into recession.
Instead, the president has focused on the protests over racial injustice, which sprang up nationwide after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, to stoke the perennial division between people in cities and those in rural areas.
Since Floyd’s death, Trump repeatedly criticized protesters and activists, deployed federal troops against some of them and said they were the ones making America less safe.
“We will bring back law and order to your community, we will bring it back and bring it back immediately,” he said in a brief stop at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where he changed to a smaller plane for the flight to Mankato.
Trump blasted Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s pick as his running mate, for encouraging Americans to donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which bailed out protesters after the riots in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“This is what we’re competing against,” Trump said. “Their sympathies lie with lawbreakers and with criminals. My heart is with law-abiding, hardworking Americans.”
Several owners of businesses destroyed in the unrest joined Trump at MSP, including Korboi Balla, a Liberian immigrant and firefighter whose sports bar on Lake Street burned down in the riots. Balla raised $1.1 million in private donations to rebuild.
“All they wanted was to live the American dream,” Trump said. “Their dreams were burned to the ground.”
Such rhetoric resonates in much of Minnesota, where rural residents largely support the police and have little sympathy for the destruction that followed the protests over Floyd’s killing.
In Mankato, Trump’s biggest applause came when he talked about the riots. “When I sent in the National Guard, that’s when it all stopped,” he said. “I kept calling and saying ‘Send in the National Guard, send in the National Guard.’ They should have done it a lot sooner.”
But Trump didn’t send in the National Guard. Gov. Tim Walz did, after three nights of rioting.
Trump bashed Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and efforts to “defund” the police department in Minneapolis.
“They’re terminating the police department. These people are crazy!” Trump said. The city has not defunded or disbanded its police department, although that language has been used by Minneapolis City Council members.
Trump also attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents Minneapolis in Congress and is one of the young women of color whom he has repeatedly criticized. Omar won a difficult primary challenge last week.
“How the hell did she win?” Trump said, as the crowd in Mankato booed. “How does a woman who hates our country, who has nothing but bad things to say about our country and our allies, including Israel — who are the people voting for her?”
Kurt Freitag, sheriff of Freeborn County, drove to the Mankato event wearing a “Blue lives matter” tie, and said Trump’s emphasis on law and order resonates with him. The rioting and spike in gun violence in Minneapolis after Floyd’s death are troubling, he said, and he’s afraid of the progressive turn he sees in the country.
“I don’t want to go this direction. We’re descending into chaos,” he said. “I’m not a racist by any stretch, but I don’t believe in what they’re pushing. I joined the Army back in 1985 to fight communism and socialism.”
Heidi Soderberg, who drove to Mankato from Wayzata, said she believes Trump is the only choice for voters who believe in capitalism. “We should be able to go out and make our own business and keep it because we’ve earned it,” Soderberg said. “I don’t think the Democrats support that. I don’t think they believe in capitalism.”
A few miles away, several hundred protesters packed Veterans Memorial Bridge and a nearby park to denounce the president’s “divisive rhetoric” and encourage residents to vote him out this November.
Jaquelin Escobedo of Sioux City, Iowa, joined her cousins waving signs and yelling “Dump Trump” during a family vacation to Minnesota. Since Trump took office, Escobedo says she’s experienced an escalation of aggression and racial slurs directed at her and other Latinos.
“I’ve been told to ‘go back to my country’ many times,” she said.
Her cousin, Carolina Alvarez, said she constantly fears for her children in Trump’s America, especially since Floyd’s death.
“I used to hold the United States, our country, as the best in the world. But after his election, I feel embarrassed,” said Alvarez, 44, of Faribault, who works in quality control at an Owatonna pork plant. “He is a con man.”
Several prominent Democratic legislators joined the outdoor demonstration. Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato, said he’s confident the city will vote blue this fall — particularly after Trump’s bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s critical we show that this is not Trump country, that we support decency and values that are Christian,” he said.
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.