US president Donald Trump told older Americans that he would “protect . . . defend . . . and fight for you with every ounce of energy and conviction that I have”, as he campaigned in Fort Myers, Florida, on Friday, amid signs that his support among over-65s is slipping.
With just over two weeks left until election day, Mr Trump held an event dubbed “protecting American seniors”, as he tried to shore up support among older voters in the electorally important state of Florida.
“I am moving heaven and earth to safeguard our seniors from the China virus, to deliver life-saving therapies in record time, and to distribute a safe and effective vaccine before the end of the year,” he said, promising that seniors would be first in line for the vaccine. “You devoted your life to this country, and I am devoting my life to you.”
Mr Trump has been criticised for his handling of Covid-19 and his own response to contracting the virus, which disproportionately impacts older people. More than a third of Florida voters are aged over 55 and the state is a key battleground in the election.
Mr Trump, who was due to hold a rally in Georgia later on Friday, was speaking after he refused to condemn Q Anon, a conspiracy theory movement during an NBC “townhall” event.
Instead, the president focused his ire on left-wing protest movements that have emerged since the George Floyd killing this summer.
Mr Trump was repeatedly pressed by host Samantha Guthrie on his views on Q Anon, which claims that a Satanic Democrat-organised cult is running a “deep state” culture involving government, business and the media.
“I know nothing about Q Anon,” Mr Trump said, but added: “I do know they are very much against paedophilia, they fight it very hard.”
Mr Trump has previously said that supporters of the online movement “love our country” and “appear to like me”.
One high-profile supporter of Q Anon – Marjorie Taylor Greene – won a Republican primary in Georgia, and could win a seat in the House of Representatives on November 3rd. Several Republicans in Congress have distanced themselves from her far-right conspiracy theories. She posed in an online social media post with a gun, standing beside liberal members of congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
While Mr Trump did condemn white supremacy at the hour-long event on Thursday night in Miami, when asked about Q Anon he pivoted to Antifa, a loosely defined group of left-wing protesters linked to demonstrations in various parts of the country.
“Why aren’t you asking me about Antifa, why aren’t you asking me about the radical left, why aren’t you asking Joe Biden questions about why doesn’t he condemn Antifa?” he asked.
Mr Trump’s appearance on NBC, which saw the president take questions from the audience as well as Guthrie, took place at the same time as an ABC townhall event with Mr Biden. Initial rating figures show that more people tuned into the Biden ABC event than watched the president’s townhall on NBC. The competing events replaced the second presidential debate, which was cancelled after Mr Trump objected to a virtual format.
Though his event was a more low-key affair, the Democratic candidate was pressed on his views on several contentious issues, including the suggestion by some members of his party that Democrats could increase the number of justices on the supreme court. Mr Biden, who previously said he opposed the idea, told host George Stephanopoulos that he would make his views clear before the election.
Both candidates were questioned on their coronavirus strategy, with Mr Trump claiming the US was “rounding the corner” on the virus. He refused to confirm if he had tested negative for Covid-19 before he debated Mr Biden on stage in Ohio on September 29th. Mr Biden dismissed the president’s claims about vaccines, saying he would listen to the scientific experts but would take a vaccine if it was recommended.
“President Trump talks about things that just aren’t accurate,” he said.