18 September 2020

Trump heats up culture wars as he appeals to Wisconsin voters

US president Donald Trump has stepped up his rhetoric on cultural issues, aiming to boost enthusiasm among rural voters in the state of Wisconsin as he tries to repeat his path to victory from 2016.

Making his fifth visit to the pivotal battleground state this year, Mr Trump views success in its less-populated counties as critical to another term in office.

He held a rally on Thursday evening in Mosinee, in central Wisconsin, an area of the state that shifted dramatically toward Republicans in 2016, enabling Mr Trump to overcome even greater deficits in urban and suburban parts of the state.

Mr Trump has increasingly used his public appearances to elevate cultural issues important to his generally whiter and older base, as he hinges his campaign on turning out his core supporters rather than focusing on winning over a narrow slice of undecided voters.

In Mosinee, he called for a statute to ban burning the American flag in protest – a freedom protected by the US supreme court – and criticised sports players and leagues for allowing demonstrations against racial inequality.

“We have enough politics, right?” he said, joking that sometimes: “I can’t watch me.”

Addressing protests in sport, he added: “People don’t want to see it and the ratings are down.”

Earlier on Thursday, in a speech at the American National Archives to commemorate Constitution Day, he derided The New York Times’ “1619 Project”, which aims to recognise the often-overlooked consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.

“For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans’ silence for weakness. But they are wrong,” Mr Trump said.

“There is no more powerful force than a parent’s love for their children – and patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country.”

Mr Trump told supporters in Wisconsin: “We’re launching a new pro-American lesson plan for students called 1776 Commission. We’re going to teach our children the truth about America.”

Mr Trump’s last visit to Wisconsin came on September 1, when he met with law enforcement and toured damage from protests in Kenosha that turned violent after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man hit seven times in the back during an attempted arrest.

Trump election rally (AP)

Mr Trump has sought to use the unrest after the August shooting of Mr Blake and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May to tout a “law and order” message and paint an apocalyptic vision of violence if his Democratic rival Joe Biden wins on November 3.

“I saved the suburbs,” Mr Trump said, regarding his call for federal law enforcement and national guard troops to confront protesters.

He added that police “did a great job in Kenosha”.

Mr Trump also previewed aid to the region’s farmers, saying 13 billion US dollars (£10 billion) would begin flowing “starting next week” to help farmers. He provided no details.

The president took another victory lap two days after he presided over Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognising Israel in a White House ceremony.

“I got nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s a big deal,” Mr Trump said, adding: “I should’ve gotten nominated seven times.”

Mr Trump won Marathon County, which includes Mosinee, by more than 12,000 votes in 2016 – over three times more than the margin by which 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney won the area.

The president’s team is wagering the 2020 contest on a similar performance in the county and the dozens of others like it across battleground states.

Mr Trump’s path to the 270 electoral college votes necessary to keep him in the White House may well hinge on Wisconsin, and his campaign is investing tens of millions of dollars on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts in the state.

The rally event took place largely outside an aircraft hangar at the Mosinee airport, his campaign’s preferred format for mass rallies amid the coronavirus, though Mr Trump has been willing to host large events indoors as well, sometimes in violation of state and federal distancing guidelines.

Republican senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was set to join Mr Trump on Air Force One, but ended up under quarantine on Thursday after learning he was exposed to someone earlier in the week who subsequently tested positive for the virus.

Mr Johnson tested negative on Wednesday night, his office said.

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