BEDMINSTER, N.J. – They hustled down the stairs, the rain dabbing their polo shirts and golf attire, as they dashed inside the clubhouse, drinks in their hands and masks missing from their faces.
It was an unexpected perk of their country club membership: being the audience for President Donald Trump’s hurriedly announced news conference Friday evening at his course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
They were props in a surreal gathering that violated COVID-19 safety guidelines but gave Trump a stage on which to end his week by falsely claiming the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the nation and endangering his reelection campaign was “disappearing.”
As if it were a political rally, the well-heeled crowd offered cheers and jeers as the president delivered broadsides against his political foes. Club members booed when a reporter suggested the news conference violated social distancing regulations put in place by Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J.
“You’re wrong about that because it’s a political activity. They have expectations for political activities. And it’s also a peaceful protest,” Trump said. The audience roared when the president suggested that the club’s members “know the news is fake.”
The news conference was not on the president's daily schedule when it was released late Thursday. White House word about the addition came less than an hour before Trump began talking.
Trump had flown in from Ohio to begin a three-day stay at the club. He played a round of golf Friday and then met with campaign staff to map out the next few weeks in a race that has seen him consistently trailing Democrat Joe Biden. Reporters traveling with the president received notice in the morning of a “lid,” which meant no public appearances were expected the rest of the day.
As evening approached and the rain moved in, the lid was lifted.