Donald Trump gave a detailed account of his recent battle with coronavirus – as well as son Barron’s recovery – at a rally in Iowa, a swing state the Republicans appear to fear losing.
The incumbent US President is embarking on a barnstorming campaign trip around key election battlegrounds, just days after recovering from coronavirus, as he continues to trail Democratic rival Joe Biden.
And while he seemed to use his 14-year-old son’s quick recovery as an advert for getting children back to school, his recovering White House aides failed to wear masks.
Reflecting criticism of what has been labelled Trump and his administration’s callous disregard for safety during the pandemic, a sign outside the Make America Great Again rally at Des Moines International Airport declared it a “superspreader event”.
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Trump described his youngest son Barron, 14, as “beautiful and…free”, going on to detail how he recovered from “corona-19” in “like two seconds”.
“He had it for such a short period of time, I don’t even think he knew he had it,” he said.
“Because they’re young and their immune systems are strong and they fight it off.”
The President used it as a segue into calling for children to “get back to school”.
Trump said he “didn’t love” his time battling the virus, which saw him spend three days in Walter Reed military hospital on the outskirts of Washington – before returning to the White House prior to testing negative.
“It’s a little tough, you know, I had the temperature and you don’t feel good,” he explained.
He again claimed he was given the option of a series of treatments and chose Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ experimental antibody cocktail – which made him feel “like Superman” within hours.
In reality he was administered with numerous treatments, including antibodies and steroids.
He said the “scariest” thing was not knowing “where it was going to go”.
Two weeks after the coronavirus spread through the White House leading to at least 19 positive infections, staffers have begun trickling back to the West Wing, saying they only had mild symptoms.
But many are continuing to spurn the use of masks despite criticism that they have been careless about the outbreak.
Ahead of Trump’s trip to Iowa on Wednesday, staff members at the presidential residence walked around the West Wing without wearing masks, eschewing the precautions that were put in place in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s diagnosis as the virus spread.
The White House declined to comment on reports that White House head of security Crede Bailey is seriously ill with Covid-19 and was taken to the hospital in late September.
Trump travelling to Iowa so close to Election Day suggests his campaign is concerned about voter support there, despite him beating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state by almost 10 per cent in 2016.
But opinion polls have shown Iowa to be competitive and it’s not the only battleground state Trump risks losing to Biden with only three weeks to go.
On Thursday he will be in North Carolina and Florida, on Friday he will campaign in Florida and Georgia and on Saturday he will speak in Michigan and Wisconsin.
All are states he won in 2016 but polls suggest could be in danger of going to the Democrats this time around.
An Ipsos poll released this week showed Biden widening his lead in the key swing states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – states Trump won in 2016.
And despite Trump calling his Democratic rival the “worst presidential candidate in history”, the ex-VP sits a record 17 points ahead of the incumbent President in a Opinium Research poll with just weeks to go.
It is just short of the lead in the popular vote that Ronald Reagan had prior to his landslide victory in 1984.
Four years later, however, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis led George HW Bush by 17 points only to suffer defeat – though that was from a poll taken months before in July, affording him plenty of time to recover.
In Florida on Tuesday, Biden told seniors at a community centre that Trump had recklessly dismissed the threat that the virus had posed to their at-risk population.
Trump has, however, touted his handling of the crisis.
The President has continually attacked his 77-year-old rival’s age – despite being only three years his junior – including tweeting a photoshopped snap of Biden in a retirement home.
It is a particularly odd strategy for Trump, who desperately needs the votes of seniors in Florida to hold on to the Oval Office.
Outside Trump’s Iowa rally, a campaign group decided to pay for a giant billboard declaring the rally a “superspreader event”.
Crowd photos show attendees crammed together and many not wearing masks, while the Republican leader reiterated he is “immune”.
Earlier in the White House Rose Garden, Trump had croaked his way through a speech, stifling the occasional cough in a signal that he might not be the ‘Superman’ he claims to be.
He has repeatedly thrown Trump-branded face masks into the crowds of his rallies this week.