The Alabama Republican Party held a rally Saturday night starring former President Donald Trump, who touted his “good relationship” with the Taliban and shrugged off the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak at the massive event.
After tearing into President Joe Biden for what he described as allowing “weakness in the White House,” Trump went on to boast of his chummy relations with the Taliban, who he described as “great negotiators” and “tough fighters,” insisting that “with me in office the Taliban would not have ever dreamt of capturing our air field or parading around with our American weapons.”
He then appeared to suggest that more U.S. troops should perhaps be sent back to Afghanistan, where the Biden administration’s handling of a withdrawal of U.S. troops originally brokered by Trump has sparked chaos and been met with bipartisan outrage.
“You know what, we have to go in and we should go in when it’s right and we now may have to be forced to go in, … we may be forced to go in, and we may not be forced, but we may be forced to go in, and if you’re not prepared to go in, you’re never going to see those 45,000 people again. If they don’t think you’re prepared to go in, you’re never going to see them again.”
It was not clear which “45,000 people” Trump was referring to, but the Biden administration has said as many as 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over, and that U.S. troops will stay in the country until all Americans are evacuated.
Elsewhere in his speech, Trump blasted Biden for failing to “stop the virus” before apparently shrugging off the risk of an outbreak at the Saturday night rally amid Alabama’s crippling surge in infections.
“I’m shaking hands with everybody backstage. I say, well, I don’t know, is this a good thing or bad? You’ll read about it, three or four days, maybe. Hopefully not,” he said.
He briefly urged supporters to “take the vaccine” before walking it back as members of the crowd reacted negatively. “That’s okay, that’s all right. You got your freedoms. But I happened to take the vaccine. … But you do have your freedoms, you have to maintain that, and you got to get your kids back to school.”
“Could you imagine if I were president and the virus was surging back? … That one’s actually tougher than the Taliban, I must be honest with you,” he said, railing against Biden for “reimposing mask mandates and threatening new restrictions.”
Cullman, the city where the rally was held, declared a state of emergency Friday ahead of the rally. Local officials and hospital managers said they needed extra resources to deal with the gathering because current staff are so strained caring for coronavirus patients.
“We want to prevent as many non-COVID related things as possible, so our hospital can use its resources to focus on the pandemic and its variants. We don’t want to put any extra strain on them,” said Cullman city attorney Luke Satterfield.
Vaccination rates in Alabama lag behind the rest of the U.S. COVID-19 has filled emergency room beds across Alabama to such an extreme degree that the manager of one of the state’s largest hospital chains said this week that the number of available beds was lower than the number of patients, that Alabama’s capacity had gone “negative” by 29 beds.