A chink in Trump’s armor
By Jules Witcover
Those gaping empty balcony seats at President Trump’s Tulsa campaign rally last weekend sent an unexpected chill through Trump World. The failure to fill the facility’s 19,000 capacity, and the resultant abandonment of a makeshift outside venue to handle an overflow that never appeared, added insult to injury.
Some of Trump’s defenders insisted that the coronavirus, on the upswing in Oklahoma, was responsible for the disappointing turnout, for which the organizers had boasted had generated a million requests for tickets. On Fox News, a campaign adviser, Mercedes Schlapp, blamed the outcome on fears of outsider violence, saying, “There were people and families that couldn’t bring their children because of concern of the protesters.” But such protests were mild.
Stories spread that anti-Trump youths around the country intentionally sought reservations for the event with no thought of attending, in order to discredit and embarrass the campaign. True or not, images of Trump’s embarrassment spread quickly across the media, to the chagrin of his campaign. The day after the event, the Tulsa Fire Marshal’s office reported the attendance at less than 6,200 souls.
Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, insisted that “these phony ticket requests” had been weeded out in advance and were “never factor into our thinking.” He continued: “The fact is that a week’s worth of the fake news warning people away from the rally because of Covid and protestors, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire, had a real impact” on the turnout. But the Washington Post reported Monday that President Trump himself “continued to fume aboard Air Force One on the way back to Washington,” about the visual embarrassment.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the current Joe Biden presidential campaign, offered: “Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it’s no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him.”
On CNN, Atlanta’s black Democratic mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, charged that Trump had shown “no concern for what it means for people to be gathering in large numbers.” She predicted the Tulsa turnout would be a “preview of November,” adding: “I just hope that this is a good sign that the country is moving on from him.”
For whatever reason, the conspicuously low turnout for Trump’s speech in Tulsa was a direct hit on one of the most conspicuously valued manifestations of his self-serving narcissism as a longtime public celebrity. Last month, he suddenly ordered that the 2020 Republication National Convention slated for Charlotte, N.C., be moved to Jacksonville, Fla., reportedly because Charlotte could not guarantee the capacity he wanted.
According to The Washington Post, in making the switch he told Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina: “Since the day I came down the escalator” referring to the day he announced his 2016 presidential candidacy in the Trump Tower in New York, “I’ve never had an empty seat.” The Tulsa experience showed he obviously he has no intention of repeating it if he can avoid it.
Such is the maturity and judgment of this president, who entered politics with zero experience in government. He has offered little evidence in the last three and a half years that he has acquired, or even made any effort to acquire, the knowledge or wisdom that the American presidency requires in these tumultuous times.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.