Poor turnout at rally

Far fewer back­ers than an­tic­i­pated went to Tulsa event

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Mario Parker, Josh Win­grove and Rachel Adams-Heard

Don­ald Trump’s first cam­paign rally since the coro­n­avirus pan­demic swept the U.S. will be re­mem­bered more for what the pres­i­dent would rather for­get, as his at­tempt to re­set his re­elec­tion bid drew a dis­ap­point­ing crowd in a safe state.

The event in down­town Tulsa, Ok­la­homa, on Satur­day night at­tracted far fewer sup­port­ers than Trump and his ad­vis­ers had promised. And it was over­shad­owed by con­tin­u­ing crit­i­cism of his re­sponse to the pan­demic and to na­tion­wide protests against po­lice bru­tal­ity.

The ouster of the top fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in New York emerged as a fresh con­tro­versy just hours be­fore the pres­i­dent touched down in the city.

Trump and his cam­paign man­ager, Brad Parscale, had boasted that a mil­lion peo­ple re­quested tick­ets on­line for the Tulsa rally, and Trump promised there wouldn’t be an empty seat. He had planned to speak to crowds both out­doors and in­side, but scrapped the out­door re­marks after a scant show­ing. In­side Tulsa’s BOK Cen­ter, upper-level seat­ing was mostly empty.

The cam­paign blamed pro­test­ers, claim­ing they had blocked Trump sup­port­ers from pass­ing through se­cu­rity check­points. The Tulsa Po­lice Depart­ment said in a tweet that pro­test­ers had been “over­whelm­ingly” peace­ful. The poor show­ing added to in­di­ca­tions

that Trump’s re-elec­tion is far from cer­tain and that his cam­paign risks derail­ment.

He has fallen be­hind his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, in na­tional polls and sur­veys of key bat­tle­ground states. In May, Biden’s cam­paign out­raised Trump’s for the first time, while Trump’s cam­paign spent twice as much money.

Trump de­clared Satur­day that he would win re­elec­tion, de­spite re­cent polls, and al­luded to na­tion­wide protests against po­lice vi­o­lence against peo­ple of color.

“I stand be­fore you to­day to de­clare that the silent ma­jor­ity is stronger than ever be­fore,” Trump said. “We are the party of Abra­ham Lin­coln, and we are the party of law and or­der.”

On Satur­day, the pres­i­dent said noth­ing about the size of the crowd.

In the hours be­fore his ar­rival, Trump courted new con­tro­versy as Ge­of­frey Ber­man, the chief fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in New York, re­signed fol­low­ing a re­mark­able stand-off with At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr, who said the pres­i­dent had fired him. But Trump told re­porters as he de­parted the White House for Tulsa that Barr was re­spon­si­ble for Ber­man’s re­moval, say­ing “I’m not in­volved.”

The pres­i­dent has strug­gled to main­tain en­thu­si­asm for his cam­paign as coro­n­avirus rav­aged the coun­try and cities na­tion­wide were con­vulsed by protests fol­low­ing the death of Ge­orge Floyd last month at the hands of Min­neapo­lis po­lice. Over the course of a week, a dam­ag­ing new book by Trump’s for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, John Bolton, and the oust­ing of Ber­man on Satur­day added to the pres­i­dent’s tra­vails.

Satur­day’s rally marked a re­turn to script for a pres­i­dent who has long thrived on the crowds and sharp par­ti­san­ship of the events. It was also meant to be a dec­la­ra­tion of vic­tory over the virus — the ad­min­is­tra­tion has touted Ok­la­homa as a re­open­ing suc­cess story, al­though cases of the dis­ease spiked in the state ahead of the rally.

Lo­cal health of­fi­cials had rec­om­mended de­lay­ing the event, but the cam­paign pressed ahead. Some cam­paign ad­vance staff in Ok­la­homa tested pos­i­tive for the virus, news that emerged shortly be­fore Trump de­parted the White House.

Masks were dis­trib­uted to at­ten­dees, but few peo­ple ac­tu­ally were seen wear­ing them.

Trump ded­i­cated por­tions of his speech to the virus, at one point seek­ing to play down the risks. “Test­ing is a dou­ble-edged sword,” he said. “When you do test­ing to that ex­tent you’re go­ing to find more peo­ple. So I said to my peo­ple, slow the test­ing down.”

A White House of­fi­cial, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied, later said the pres­i­dent was jok­ing when he spoke about slow­ing down test­ing.

Out­side the arena, ten­sions es­ca­lated be­tween pro­test­ers and Trump sup­port­ers ahead of the rally. Pro­test­ers clus­tered near the en­trance to the event, where Ok­la­homa Na­tional Guard troops stood in a line.

After Trump’s re­marks, po­lice con­fronted pro­test­ers and briefly fired uniden­ti­fied pro­jec­tiles that pro­duced eye ir­ri­tants be­fore back­ing off.

Trump’s cam­paign boasted after the rally that de­spite the poor in-per­son at­ten­dance, more than four mil­lion peo­ple had watched the event on­line. “These num­bers rep­re­sent un­matched en­thu­si­asm be­hind the Pres­i­dent’s re-elec­tion and a mas­sive au­di­ence that Joe Biden can only dream of,” cam­paign com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Tim Mur­taugh said.

But some Biden cam­paign of­fi­cials gloated over the scene in the arena.

“The ol’ Trump 5D chess at work,” dig­i­tal di­rec­tor Rob Fla­herty tweeted in re­sponse to a pic­ture of empty seats above the stage as Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence spoke.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

Sup­port­ers cheer Pres­i­dent Trump on Satur­day night at the BOK Cen­ter, where upper-level seat­ing was mostly empty.

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