Donald Trump sows division and promises 'greatness' at Tulsa rally flop

US president’s much hyped return turned to humiliation when he did not fill arena in Republican stronghold of Oklahoma

Donald Trump declared “the silent majority is stronger than ever before” at his comeback rally on Saturday, but thousands of empty seats seemed to tell a special story.

The US president’s much hyped return to the campaign trail turned to humiliation when he did not fill a 19,000-capacity arena within the Republican stronghold of Oklahoma, raising fresh doubts about his chances of winning re-election.

“The Emperor has no crowd,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama.

The overwhelmingly white gathering at Trump’s first rally since March was dwarfed by the large multiracial crowds that have marched for Black Lives Matter across the country in recent weeks, reinforcing criticism that the president is badly out of step with the national mood.

The flop in Tulsa was an unexpected anticlimax for an occasion that appeared to offer a combustible mixture of Trump, protests over racial injustice and a coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 120,000 Americans and put quite 40m out of labor .

First, Trump’s planned speech to an overflow event outside the venue was cancelled thanks to lack of attendance. Cable news networks showed a “Trump” lectern standing idle as workers dismantled a stage.

Then the rally venue itself was estimated to be only two-thirds full, with numerous empty seats within the upper tier and empty space on the world floor, despite his campaign having claimed that it received quite 1,000,000 ticket requests. One explanation for the disconnect spread rapidly online as Twitter users suggested many of the requests were fakes filed by bored teens and even fans of Korean pop playing a prank on the US president.

But to Trump officials Oklahoma had surely seemed a secure bet for the so-called “transition to greatness” event; Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton 65% to 29% in 2016. Yet the plan began to unravel when the rally, originally scheduled for Friday, was moved back each day following criticism that it might have clashed with Juneteenth, and during a city where in 1921 white supremacists killed an estimated 300 black residents.
The Trump campaign was also condemned for ignoring warnings from public health experts about the risks of holding the most important indoor gathering yet seen during the pandemic. Oklahoma has seen a 91% jump in its coronavirus cases over the past week. Six staff members who helped found out the event tested positive and there have been fewer face masks among supporters than “Make America great again” signs.

The president seemed to trivialise the virus, “Testing may be a double-edged sword,” he told the rally. “We’ve tested now 25 million people. It’s probably 20 million people quite anybody else. Germany’s done tons . South Korea’s done tons . Here’s the bad part, once you do testing thereto extent, you’re getting to find more people. You’re getting to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’”

He also mused that Covid-19 has many various names, including the racist term “kung flu”. the gang cheered.

It was a characteristic moment during a rambling speech that lasted nearly two hours but never caught fire. Trump offered few surprises, planting himself firmly on the side of law and order, lambasting the media and stoking division, hatred and fear.

“The silent majority is stronger than ever before,” he insisted, echoing the previous president Nixon . “Five months from now we’re getting to defeat Sleepy Joe Biden. We are the party of Lincoln and that we are the party of law and order.”

Warning against defunding police, he said: “It’s one within the morning, and a really tough⁠ – I used the word once in a while – hombre is breaking into the window of a girl whose husband is away as a travelling salesman or whatever he may do. And you call 911 and that they say, ‘I’m sorry this number is not any longer working.’”

Trump, who has faced withering attacks for his response to the protests, including threatening to deploy the US military, claimed: “I’ve done more for the black community in four years than Joe Biden has wiped out 47 years.”

But he offered no compassion for George Floyd or thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets against police brutality. Instead he railed against the recent removals of Confederate statues.

“The unhinged leftwing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrating our monuments, our beautiful monuments, level our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who doesn't conform to their demands for absolute and total control, we’re not conforming,” he said.

Election opponent Biden was dismissed as “a helpless puppet of the novel left”, “puppet for China” and “very willing computer virus for socialism”.

Trump also took some long digressions. Clearly stung by media coverage of his slow, faltering walk down a ramp at the graduation ceremony for the US academy at West Point last week, he riffed about it being steep and his slippery leather-soled shoes putting him in danger of falling ahead of the cameras.

The low turnout are going to be a blow to Trump, whose campaign reportedly saw it as how to revive his flagging spirits amid slumping poll numbers. The president had said last Monday: “ We’ve never had an empty seat. and that we certainly won’t in Oklahoma.”

But confronted by empty seats which will prove more telling than any poll , Trump hailed his supporters as “warriors” and blamed protesters for the poor turnout: “We had some very bad people outside. They were doing bad things.” He also described them as a “bunch of maniacs”.

The Trump campaign separately claimed that protesters interfered with the president’s supporters, even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented people from entering the rally. But multiple reporters on the bottom saw no evidence of this.

Rallies are Trump’s lifeblood. As usual, this one ended with the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What you would like .”

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Donald Trump sows division and promises 'greatness' at Tulsa rally flop
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