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Trump's Tulsa Rally Disaster Is Another Turning Point
Like the bible photo-op, it will be remembered as a moment he lost some of his base
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Donald Trump thought his magic powers could fill a stadium of his loyal cult followers in Tulsa amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the surge in cases, in Oklahoma and throughout the South and West.
But it seemed from that outset that this event would become another crystalizing moment — just like the bible photo-op, and tear-gassing of peaceful protesters outside the White House — including even among some who supported Trump.
Trump’s return to the campaign trail with a much-hyped rally was a complete disaster, as only 6,200 people showed up Saturday night to fill a stadium that seats 19,200. It was proof positive that many of Trump’s older base couldn’t be swayed by him that coronavirus is “fading away” and that they should risk their lives. Hours before the rally, news broke that six members of the Trump campaign advance team had tested positive for covid, only heightening the fears people had.
Trump and his campaign set themselves up when they touted this event for weeks before as something that was going to be a thunderous return, claiming over one millions requests for tickets. It turned out the campaign was seriously pranked by teens — TikTokers and K-pop fans — who requested perhaps hundreds of thousand of tickets. But even with that impact, the fact that the overflow section outside the rally was empty proved that Trump supporters stayed away.
Trump was to give a speech outdoors on a stage that was set up for those who couldn’t get into the stadium, but with two-thirds of the stadium empty no one was outside waiting for the outdoor event. The stage was dismantled before Trump even got there while the campaign was sending out urgent texts to supporters telling them there was still space inside — all to no avail. The headlines were brutal.
Reports from the Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post noted Trump was infuriated, looking on “in horror” from backstage at all the empty seats in the arena. When he came out, the energy wasn’t there. He wasn’t grooving off the crowd.
The speech was boilerplate racist cant (calling coronavirus “kung flu”) and lies — and even included a damaging admission that he’d told his staff to “slow the testing down” since it would only show more cases of coronavirus. (Some White House officials later tried to claim this was a joke, which was frankly pathetic).
Trump was humiliated, walking back to the White House from a chopper with his tie off, his MAGA hat crumpled in his hand and a dejected look on his face. The Republican never-Trumper group The Lincoln Project hit him hard in a video.
Bottom line: The bible photo-op was the first turning point, where we saw Trump supporters themselves pulling away from him as his poll numbers continued to plummet. Trump supporters who’ve called my show — and friends of Trump supporters who called — said he lost them. One Michigan poll taken after that horrible incident showed Joe Biden with a 16-point lead over Trump in the battleground state, and another one showed Biden with a 12-point lead. A pollster pinpointed the bible photo-op as a deciding factor for many voters.
The rally is another such point. We knew Trump was losing the previously loyal following he has among older Americans, as Joe Biden has been leading substantially among senior citizens, unlike just about every Democratic presidential candidate for the past 20 years. And we’ve seen his big drop in support among evangelical voters, who tend to be older as well.
These people have lost family, friends and loved ones to coronavirus, or have battled it themselves. They know they are the most vulnerable. Trump’s response to the pandemic has been appalling. While much or even most of his base will follow him no matter what, a large portion clearly don’t believe him on coronavirus, and on re-opening economies quickly.
Just because many didn’t turn up at his rally out of fear of covid, of course, doesn’t mean they won’t vote for him. But with Trump dangerously forging ahead with this rally — and then admitting he wanted testing slowed down — and with his continued claims the pandemic is no longer a threat, a growing number are going to become unnerved.
Trump’s also been completely off in his response to the massive protests to police brutality against black people, thinking he could ignore — or fight against — a movement that a large majority of Americans support. It’s the same with coronavirus and the devastated economy, issues he’s trying to just will away but which the majority of Americans are experiencing in real time.
The Tulsa rally highlighted his denial and the alternate reality he lives in, and will be looked back on as another moment that had many more Americans see it as well.