One of the true joys of the past weekend was Donald Trump's humiliating rally attendance in Tulsa, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving as the finger-pointing continues. Trump and his campaign officials had touted expected crowds close to a million people, and the campaign had shown, with plans for a big overflow area to be addressed by Trump and Mike Pence, that it wasn’t just bragging—it expected huge crowds to materialize. Instead, the overflow area was dismantled without being used and the inside of the 19,000 BOK Center was mostly empty, with a crowd of less than 6,200.
Campaign manager Brad Parscale is fighting to save his job, insisting that fake registrations by TikTok teens and K-pop stans did not account for the embarrassing turnout. The thing is, if he’s telling the truth on that, it still leaves him having inflated expectations ahead of a rally that underperformed by normal standards, let alone the inflated ones. An unnamed “Republican with direct knowledge of the president’s thinking” told The Washington Post: “We won’t really know how safe Brad is until we see how long this goes on for in the news cycle.”
The official campaign story is that scary scary protesters frightened away literally hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters who intended to be there—despite Trump's threat that protesters would be met by police brutality, and despite years of Republican swagger about their own toughness. Trump is constantly fantasizing about his supporters beating up protesters, a fantasy reflected in the crude T-shirts many of those supporters like to wear to rallies. But when it came to it, apparently they were just too scared.
“The fact is that a week’s worth of the fake news media warning people away from the rally because of COVID and protesters, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire, had a real impact on people bringing their families and children to the rally,” Parscale claimed. Except that all those hundreds of thousands of registrations he’d been bragging about happened against the exact same media and protest backdrop. So it still doesn’t hold water.
(Brief digression: Trump campaign officials keep talking about the people who were too worried to bring their children. To an event at which Trump aggressively played on racism. Apparently that was family-friendly content, but walking past some protesters would have been a bridge too far.)
Some observers have noted that the campaign’s bragging about expected crowd size might itself have suppressed attendance. If you think half a million people are going to turn up and you’re not going to get into the rally, maybe you don’t go. But that’s also not enough to account for the drop-off from nearly a million to … nearly 6,200. No, there’s no way this doesn’t reflect both diminished enthusiasm for Trump and reluctance to go to a non-socially distanced COVID-19 superspreader event in the making.
The official story from the White House via press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is that Trump “was not angry at all” and in fact “was in good spirits on Marine One” because the rally “was a huge success.” Yeah, sure, Kayleigh. He looks like he was in great spirits.