As Karl relates, in April 2020, with his poll numbers plunging and his daily coronavirus briefings going off the rails, Trump decided he needed to get back into the rally game. And what he said to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the time was telling:
“He was just beside himself,” former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a close advisor to Trump whom he called frequently throughout the campaign for advice, told me. “All he could think about was the campaign. He didn’t talk much about anything else. COVID would come into it, but really his focus was on the campaign.”
Really? Trump was focused entirely on keeping the job he wasn’t remotely interested in doing? That tracks.
In May, Karl writes, Trump insisted that his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, put together a road map for resuming the pseudo-president’s popular rallies, even though large events in the country had essentially been shut down for weeks.
After struggling to find a venue that could accommodate a light MAGA culling, the campaign eventually settled on Tulsa, Oklahoma, because the city had a Republican mayor and was located in a state with a GOP governor. In other words, it was a COVID-friendly space. (In another major faux pas, this one perhaps unintentional, the campaign originally scheduled the rally for Juneteenth—June 19, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.—but changed the date after receiving significant blowback. Add holding it in Tulsa, the site of a white-on-black massacre in 1921, and you’re really cooking with gas.)
The expectations for the rally were high, with Parscale tweeting in the week before the event was set to launch, “Just passed 800,000 tickets. Biggest data haul and rally signup of all time by 10x. Saturday is going to be amazing!” What they didn’t know was that lots of those tickets—no doubt the vast majority—were reserved by pranksters who were eager to see Trump’s dangerous, self-aggrandizing return to the limelight fail, big-league.
Karl notes that Trump was positively giddy in the days leading up to the rally, especially after Parscale notified him that they’d passed the 1 million ticket threshold. The dire warnings from Oklahoma’s public health officials that the rally would worsen the pandemic in their state naturally failed to penetrate Trump’s Macy’s parade balloon of an ego.
In fact, asked about the possibility that his rally could turn into a superspreader event, Trump had a characteristically sociopathic response: “As you probably have heard, and we’re getting exact numbers out, but we’re either close to or over one million people wanting to go. Nobody has ever heard of numbers like this. I think we’re going to have a great time.”
You know what happened next. On the way to the rally, Trump watched the news from Air Force One. But instead of footage of thronging crowds eager to see their fave disease vector, the teevee was talking about positive COVID-19 results among Trump’s campaign staff and the conspicuous lack of rally attendees.
“It it going to be full?” Trump eventually asked Parscale. “No, sir,” came the response. “It looks like Beirut in the eighties.”
Yes, and as with Beirut in the ‘80s, Americans would die. Oklahoma saw a major spike in COVID-19 cases three weeks after the rally, and former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who attended the event without a mask, famously succumbed to the virus weeks later.
The event caused problems for the Secret Service, as dozens of agents needed to quarantine after two agents who worked at the Tulsa rally tested positive. The consequences were more dire for one prominent Trump supporter. Herman Cain, a former Republican presidential candidate who the president’s team flew out to attend the rally, tested positive for COVID-19 days after the event. Cain, who was 74, was photographed inside the arena without a mask, sitting jam-packed with a group of other well-known Trump supporters who were also not wearing masks. Days after testing positive, Cain was hospitalized. A month later, on July 30, Cain died from complications of the coronavirus. The news devastated Trump campaign staff. Many felt like they were to blame for his death. “We killed Herman Cain,” one senior staffer told [ABC News reporter Will] Steakin not long after Cain’s death.
The night before the rally, several of Trump’s campaign staffers tested positive for COVID-19, and the administration was trying to contain the political—not the public health—fallout. According to two senior campaign officials Karl interviewed, after the eighth person close to the campaign tested positive, “word came down from the campaign leadership: STOP TESTING.”
And the lack of care and compassion Trump showed for his own people didn’t end there. According to Karl, campaign staffers who’d tested positive were told to drive rental cars back to Washington, D.C., even though they should have self-isolated for 10 days. “There was a car of three staffers who had tested positive that drove all the way from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Washington, D.C.,” a senior adviser told Karl. “We called it a COVID-mobile.”
Oh, and in case you thought Trump couldn’t be any more of an insensate monster than he already is, take a gander at this anecdote:
There’s something else neither Trump nor his campaign ever disclosed. One of the campaign staffers who tested positive became severely ill. This employee of the Trump campaign, whose name I’ve been asked not to disclose, was unable to drive home like the others. Instead, this staffer was hospitalized in Tulsa for a week. This staffer had been worried about the dangers of working on the rally because of preexisting conditions that made the prospect of being infected especially dangerous, but the president had demanded an indoor rally despite the warnings of public health officials, and the staffer faithfully responded by helping to organize it. Now that the rally was over, the president was back in Washington complaining bitterly that more people had not shown up, while this campaign worker was stuck in Tulsa, lying in a hospital bed thinking his life was about to end.
Uh-huh. If that isn’t Trump in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. You sure wouldn’t want to be with Trump in a foxhole, now would you? Or any hole, for that matter.
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