No political event in this presidential season was planned with more anticipation than President Trump’s kick-off rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It could have been a master stroke – but it wasn’t. It was both ill-advised and ill-conceived –plus a mediocre performance by President Trump.
As a Trump voter, I wish I could be a cheerleader. But as an objective analyst of the political realities on all sides, I must call out my team when they are not performing well. Upset elections happen from time to time, but they are rare and few between. The political indicators – those tea leaves that we pundits read – are likely to be more accurate in 2020.
As is often the case with Trump, he enabled his political enemies to credibly cherry pick aspects of the planning and execution for criticism. He again gave the adversarial media talking-points that will not only be cheered-on by the Democrat base and reported by the elitist media, but will also have an air of credibility with independents — the swing voters – that Trump desperately needs to find another path to the presidency.
A missed opportunity in the dialogue on race
How did it happen that the first date was Juneteenth – a holiday of significance to a segment of the black community even if relatively unknown to most Americans? On his typical back-handed compliments, Trump claimed that he made Juneteenth popular. That did not go over well with minority leaders even though he was largely correct. After many years of working in the black community and researching a manuscript on racial history – I have rarely heard a black person mention the holiday and I have no recollection of it at dinners, parades or displays celebrating the occasion. I did include it in my book, but because I did extensive research.
The outcry over the date caused Trump to postpone for one day. That did not resolve the location issue. Tulsa was the scene of one of the worst racial massacres in American history – the attack on a middle-class and upscale community known as the Black Wall Street. Having researched the matter extensively, I can assure readers that it was a horrific event –the kinds of events that southern Democrat administrations were encouraging and supporting throughout the 100 years they dominated the old southland.
Not only should the rally planners have been aware and sensitive to the racial history, they could have used it as an educational moment on race in America – the counterpoint to the false narrative that marks American culture today. It did not have to be the entire two-hour oration – but a significant segment.
The failure to recognize a golden opportunity meant that the Democrats’ and media’s false narratives of racism in America – and even the accusations against Trump – gained more footing in the public space.
The pandemic issue
And whoever thought that holding a rally indoors during the Covid-19 pandemic was a good idea? That fact – and that fact alone – enabled the left to make a distinction – weak as it was – between the massive crowds protesting in violation of the law, the rules, the recommendations of the scientists and common sense and the crowd of Trump ralliers. At least – the left opines – the demonstrators were out-of-doors. It should have been an outdoor rally
I have repeatedly written of my belief that we have – and are – overreacting the Covid-19 pandemic – bad as it is. By not wearing a mask in certain situations, however, Trump played into his enemies’ hands – giving the left an unearned opportunity to make mask wearing a political issue.
Personally, I am not obsessive about wearing a mask, but I do not take my lead from Trump. I wear one or not based on a specific requirement – such as entering a store – or when I think conditions might warrant it based on my own review of the science.
Having watched Trump’s entire speech, I came away feeling I saw that movie before – more than once. It was virtually a look in the rear-view mirror. He railed against the same political demons as he did in 2016. In fact, he made many of those same points in the same language in a 1988 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Trump did cover several of his legitimate and popular accomplishments, but they were scatter shots mixed in with his pugnacious rhetoric. While he attacked former Vice President Biden, the accusations were more headlines with no details. Trump is too often like a prosecutor in court who says the guy is guilty but fails to lay out the evidence. A candidate with Trump’s low credibility cannot just make statements. They have to make the case.
Does crowd size matter?
It was obviously a mistake to oversell the anticipated crowd size. That is obvious. By any measure, Trump drew a large crowd considering the health scare and the potential of violence. Even at 6000 to 8000 people, it was a much bigger crowd than other candidates can draw – and especially Biden.
The problem is not the size of the crowd, but the pre-rally expectations. They did not fall just a little short of the predictions, they fell tens of thousands short of what was projected – even hundreds of thousands short of some projections.
But it was more than just optics. Having two-thirds of the arena empty and no overflow crowd outside – where they had set up all the equipment for Trump to speak a second time – can be made part of any political calculation.
It was reported that Trump was angry as hell when it was obvious that the BIG crowd was not going to show up. He had every reason to be. But the failure to produce the crowd seems to have been less a failure in execution as it was a conceptual failure from the onset.
As is correctly noted at this stage in a campaign – it is a long way to Election Day and anything can happen. But to make that happen, the Trump campaign – and the candidate – may be to develop a strategy to the realities of 2020 and not re-run the 2016 campaign.
So, there ‘tis.