Defying his own administration’s guidelines regarding large public gatherings during the coronavirus epidemic, President Donald Trump will resume holding his raucous campaign rallies next week. He’s convinced that having some 10,000 or so unmasked people standing close together inside an arena won’t pose a risk to anyone’s health, but just to be sure he’s requiring everyone in attendance to sign a waver stating they “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19” and will not hold the campaign liable.
The re-opening round of rallies are planned for Oklahoma, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Arizona, all states that are currently an increase in their rates of coronavirus infection, but we don’t expect that will prevent a large turnout at each stop. Trump fans are loyal to their president and love his rallies the way bobby soxers loved Frank Sinatra concerts, and they seem to have little fear of coronavirus. Many of them have already attended large public gatherings protesting the restrictions that state and local governments have imposed in response to the epidemic.
All of the venues are noteworthy, but the rally planned for June 19th in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has drawn special scrutiny. The date is Juneteenth, a holiday for many black Americans commemorating when Texas slaves belatedly learned they’d been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and it comes with a week of the anniversary of the 1921 “Tulsa race riot,” when white mobs invaded the black part of town and burned down homes and businesses and killed around 300 citizens and even used a plan to drop bombs on the neighborhood. Tulsa’s a great town, but that was its most shameful moment, and given all that’s going on across the country at the moment many black Tulsans found the scheduling racially insensitive. There’s a good chance the choice of time and place was inadvertent, given how little Trump knows about history, and there’s also a possibility that it was intentional, given Trump’s racial instincts and instinctive insensitivity.
What we notice about the upcoming tour of Trump’s hit roadshow is that he’s sticking to friendly territory, or once was friendly. Trump can count on Oklahoma’s electoral votes, and should be able to count on Florida and North Carolina and Texas and Arizona, and that he’s spending time and money in those states does not bode well for his reelection campaign. All the polling lately indicates that Florida and North Carolina and Arizona are now swing states he’s in danger of losing, with Texas alarmingly competitive, but Trump also needs to be in Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and the other states that gave him his upset win in the Electoral College voting but he’s now losing by wide margins.
Trump rallies always fire the up the faithful, who can’t get enough of his insult comic shtick, but for now we doubt the benefits outweigh the risk of his gatherings becoming widely-reported coronavirus clusters. They don’t seem to win over many potentially persuadable but still unconverted voters, and almost of the networks won’t be airing any of them live and unfiltered, and he’s bound to say something stupid that his many critics in the news media and late night comedy shows will make hay of for a few news cycles.
Trump does love his rallies, though, basking in the applause and adoration of the faithful, and that probably supersedes any risk-benefit analysis his advisors might dare present him. Better Trump should spend his time uniting and calming the country at this polarized and very scary moment in history, but the applause and adoration of the faithful might supersede that as well.
— Bud Norman