GUILFORD, Maine (AP) — President Donald Trump used his first visit to Maine as president to lob jabs at the state’s Democratic governor on Friday for not reopening businesses shuttered by the coronavirus and opting for a phased reopening instead.
Trump accused Gov. Janet Mills of not knowing what she’s doing and compared her to a “dictator,” adding that the governor was giving away money that could be made during Maine’s busy summer tourist season.
“She’s going to destroy your state,” he said. “I’m not a fan.”
Ahead of Trump’s visit, Mills had urged the Republican president to “check the rhetoric at the door and abandon the divisive words” during his time in the state and lead the country with “courage and compassion” during the national upheaval over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Trump did not reference Floyd or the protests during his first stop of the visit.
Trump began his visit in Bangor, where he met commercial fishermen and signed an order to reopen fishing waters that were closed in 2016 when the Obama administration designated the first and only national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.
The president also used the visit to warn the European Union and China that if tariffs aren’t cut on Maine lobsters, they’ll face retaliatory tariffs equal or higher than those hurting the state’s fishermen.
“The EU has been ripping off” the United States, Trump said adding that Europe and China have been taking advantage of the U.S. for years on trade.
Trump’s trip to Maine was meant to showcase the administration’s work to fight the coronavirus but it attracted hundreds of supporters and opponents of Trump who turned out to demonstrate over the death of Floyd and Trump’s response.
In Bangor, Marie Follayttar, director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, which helped organize a demonstration, said: “It’s not the right time for him to be coming to our state.”
From there, Trump was traveling to rural Guilford, population 1,500. It is the home to Puritan Medical Products, one of only two major companies producing a special type of swab needed to ramp up coronavirus testing.
By early afternoon, ahead of Trump’s arrival, supporters heavily outnumbered anti-Trump demonstrators. But there were numerous other anti-Trump demonstrations planned in the state, and some organizers had dissuaded protesters from coming to Guilford.
That didn’t stop Pam Chamberlain of Brewer from coming to Guilford with a sign that said “The Bible Is Not A Prop.” She said it was important for opponents of Trump and police brutality to have a presence at the site.
“I said, I need to go down there and represent the people who are afraid to be there,” she said. “And maybe the people who are afraid to come out of their house right now.”
Supporters of Trump came with signs that said “Antifa = Scum” and “Blue Lives Matter” among others.
Paul Layman drove from the Portland area, more than two hours away, to support the president and let protesters know what he thinks of them. He said rural Maine supports Trump because of his work on the economy. “I’m just tired of all these losers and their stupidity,” Layman said before describing protesters as “imps.”
During a call earlier this week with governors, Mills also told the president she was concerned about “security problems” in the state if Trump visited because of his harsh remarks about how to control demonstrators. The president said her remarks only made him more determined to come.
Trump has drawn criticism for urging governors to “dominate” protesters and toss perpetrators of violence in prison and for his administration’s move earlier this week to forcibly clear out peaceful protesters near the White House so the president could walk to a nearby church to pose for photos holding up a Bible.
At the White House on Friday, Trump called for fair treatment from law enforcement for every American regardless of race, color or creed. At the same time, he reiterated his call for a show of force to quell civil unrest to check violence.
“You have to dominate the streets,” Trump said, urging state governors to call in the National Guard.
The Trump administration is providing $75.5 million through the Defense Production Act for Puritan to double production to 40 million swabs a month, and the company plans to open a second production site by July 1. More than 350 workers in Guilford have been working long hours since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“There is pressure. There’s always not enough. There’s always not enough. You’re always working to provide the extra capacity that’s needed,” co-owner Timothy Templet told The Associated Press. “We’re doing our best to supply the needs. It’s critical that our country is taken care of.”
Normally, Friday’s events would make for a friendly visit for Trump in a congressional district that awarded him an electoral vote in the 2016 election.
But it comes against the backdrop of demonstrations across Maine and the nation following Floyd’s death after being detained by police. Video showed a white police officer pressing his knee on the neck of Floyd, who was black, while Floyd was handcuffed on the ground and pleading that he couldn’t breathe.
In Maine, the nation’s whitest state, there have been multiple days of demonstrations. Earlier in the week, more than 1,000 people gathered in Portland, stopping traffic, setting trash cans afire and pelting police with objects. More than 30 people have been arrested.