In the final hours before election day, one of Donald Trump’s closing messages to Americans is an unsubstantiated threat: that a Joe Biden presidency will result in a national Covid-19 lockdown.
Speaking in Iowa on Sunday, the president said the election was a “choice between a deadly Biden lockdown … or a safe vaccine that ends the pandemic”.
Coronavirus cases are surging in the US and most battleground states are particularly badly affected. On Friday, the total case count surpassed 9m while the daily count set a new world record, at about 100,000. On Sunday 81,493 new cases were reported, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 447 new deaths. Nearly 231,000 people have died.
In Iowa, painting a dark and dystopian vision, Trump told a crowd of closely packed supporters, many not wearing masks: “The Biden plan will turn America into a prison state locking you down, while letting the far-left rioters roam free to loot and burn.”
That came after he told a rally in Pennsylvania, another swing state, there would be “no school, no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgivings, no Christmas, no Easters, no Fourth of Julys” under a Biden administration.
In an interview in August, Biden was asked if he would shut the US down if scientists said he should do so. He said: “I would shut it down. I would listen to the scientists.” Biden has since clarified that he was referring to whether he would follow advice, saying: “There’s going to be no need, in my view, to be able to shut down the whole economy.”
In October, Biden said: “I don’t think there’s a need to lock down.”
If national and battleground state polling proves accurate and he wins on Tuesday, Biden has pledged to introduce a “Beat Covid-19” plan that includes a national mask mandate, a $25bn vaccine plan guaranteeing free access to every American, improved test-and-trace efforts, and help for schools and small businesses.
On Sunday, he told a drive-in event in Philadelphia: “The truth is, to beat the virus, we first have to beat Donald Trump – he is the virus!
“When America is heard, I believe the message is going to be clear: It’s time for Donald Trump to pack his bags and go home. We’re done with the chaos, the tweets, the anger, the hate.”
Trump has repeated his anti-lockdown message across his social media accounts and campaign ads.
On Twitter, he wrote: “Biden wants to LOCKDOWN our Country, maybe for years. Crazy!” A campaign ad, entitled “Don’t let Joe Biden lock down our economy”, places footage from the August interview when Biden said he would shut down if scientists advised alongside news footage from lockdowns in Europe and scenes of protest.
With very few voters still undecided, Larry Sabato, director of the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Trump’s approach was not about converting voters – rather it is about “revving up his base”.
“He is depending on a tremendous turnout tomorrow, and he may get it,” Sabato told the Guardian. “The whole point of it is to remind voters, or the voters remaining, that Trump’s ace card is the economy, and that he’s determined to restore it – even if it means, frankly, more infections and deaths.
“He’s made a clear choice and Biden has chosen the other path, which is to do what Europe’s doing – not necessarily a complete lockdown, but a substantial lockdown and a mask mandate, all the things that Trump and his supporters won’t like. He’s trying to rev them up. And they’re revved up.”
Citing recent incidents in Texas, where Trump supporters appeared to try to force a Biden campaign bus off the road, and in New York and New Jersey on Sunday, when hundreds of cars flying Trump flags blocked traffic, Sabato said: “It’s shocking, really. We’ve never had anything like this … it just suggests what’s going to happen if he [Trump] loses.”
At a midnight rally in Florida, Trump threatened to fire Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert. To chants of “fire Fauci”, he said: “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice. I appreciate it.”
In an interview with the Washington Post, Fauci said the US should prepare for “a whole lot of hurt” and predicted a winter of 100,000-plus cases a day and more deaths.
“It’s not a good situation,” he said. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”