“I cannot disappoint the thousands of people that are there — and the thousands that are going,” he wrote on Twitter. “I look forward to seeing everyone this evening.”
But some politicians called his decision to continue with the rally “inappropriate” and “revolting” and pointed out that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in early November 2012, Trump scolded President Barack Obama for attending a campaign event in Columbus, featuring singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen and rapper Jay-Z — which was days after the storm had dissipated. But at the time, Trump said it was “Wrong!”
“Tonight @realDonaldTrump is fundraising and holding a rally in Pennsylvania while Hurricane Michael victims across Florida are still decimated. Wrong!” Andrew Weinstein, co-chair of the Democrats' National Lawyers Council, wrote Wednesday on Twitter, mocking Trump’s 2012 remarks.
Trump began his speech Wednesday by extending “our thoughts and prayers of our entire nation to everyone in the path of Hurricane Michael.”
But some questioned whether Trump should have attended at all.
In fact, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) posed that precise question.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) posted video of a live CNN broadcast showing the storm raging in Panama City Beach.
Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, also called out Trump for mocking the #MeToo movement. During Trump’s rally, he said: “There’s an expression, but under the rules of Me Too, I’m not allowed to use that expression anymore. I can’t do it.” It’s not clear which expression he was referencing.
Then Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) criticized the president for campaigning “while millions suffered from #HurricaneMichael.”
News of the rally also made the morning news shows Thursday as hosts debated about it. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough called out Trump on his show “Morning Joe” for “holding a full-on pep rally while Americans are suffering and dying in northwest Florida,” according to Mediaite.
At the same time, “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade called it a “good move.”
“So, the president last night was able to join [Fox News anchor] Shannon Bream after his rally in Pennsylvania. He wanted everyone to know that, even though he’s holding the rally, he never really put the people in the eye of the storm behind him,” Kilmeade said, according to Media Matters for America. He added that “I think that was, overall, a good move.”
Trump said on Fox News Channel that he did not cancel the previously scheduled event because he did not want to disappoint all of his supporters.
When Bream, the host of “Fox News @ Night,” asked the president Wednesday night whether he wanted to respond to critics who said he should not have held a rally at that time, he said, “Well, if I didn’t go, they would also criticize.”
“The problem I had, Shannon, is this was set up a long time ago,” he continued. “We had thousands of people lined up from yesterday. I mean, literally, they stayed 24 hours and sometimes more than that to go to these rallies. They like them. You probably saw the pictures on television tonight, thousands and thousands of people outside after the arena. It was a big arena. But it was full. And we had 15,000 or beyond that people outside. And so, you had these people waiting for hours, many hours. And if I didn’t go, that would have been the wrong thing, too."
“And more importantly than anything, we have people in Florida. We have people in the White House. I had everything set up on Air Force One. I was in total communication.”
Trump said people there “had a fantastic time.”
“But it would have been very unfair to have people waiting for 10, 12, more than that hours and then say, ‘By the way, I’m not going to be there tonight.’ It would have been pretty tough,” he said.
Trump echoed his comments Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends.”
When co-host Steve Doocy asked him about the “heat” he has taken since the rally, Trump responded: “Well, I think really when I explained it there was no heat. I really had very little heat, other than the natural haters, of which there are obviously some. But, you know, we had thousands of people standing in line. It’s a great thing that’s happening. It’s a great movement in our country.”
CNN reported that candidates running for U.S. Senate and governor in Florida postponed their campaigning to focus on Hurricane Michael, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.
A spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) told CNN this week that the governor would be putting his campaign plans on hold for the “next few days.” Scott, a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in the state, wrote Thursday on Twitter that “100% of our focus is on rescue & recovery from this devastating storm.”
His opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), was planning to meet with emergency management authorities “to make sure local officials have everything they need,” a spokesman told CNN.
Gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) said Sunday that he would be stepping away from his campaign temporarily to prepare for the looming natural disaster.