We’ve never failed to have a good time on our many visits to Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is one of America’s most musical cities and one of those places that has its own weird vibe, but President Donald Trump wound up having a very bad day there on Saturday.
Trump had hoped restart his reelection campaign with one of of his famously jam-packed and raucous at the 19,000-seat Bank of Oklahoma Center in downtown Tulsa, but starting with the announcement it proved a public relations disaster. The campaign was widely criticized for packing unmasked people into a crowded building during an ongoing pandemic, including by the mayor and public health officials hospital workers in Tulsa, which has lately seen its coronavirus cases spiking. Others noticed the rally was scheduled for June 19th, which millions of black Americans celebrate as “Juneteenth” to commemorate when the last Americans slaves in Texas learned they were free, and given that it was shortly after the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 when white Tulsans murdered at last 300 black Tulsans and largely burned down the city’s prosperous black district, and given that most black Americans consider Trump a racist, it was another controversy.
In a rare concession to public opinion Trump rescheduled the rally to the next day, and boasted that he “made Juneteenth famous,” then announced that all the rally-goers would be provided one of those face masks that he refuses to wear and has discouraged others from wearing. He also required that rally-goers sign a form waiving liability against the campaign if anyone was infected during the rally, and the rally wasn’t getting the coverage Trump hoped for. Shortly before the rally the press was reporting that six campaign workers who’d been doing advance work the event had tested positive for coronavirus, and Trump was reportedly furious that it was being reported.
Still, Trump flew into Tulsa with high hopes. His campaign manager had boasted that one million people had applied for tickets, and Trump promised he would not only pack the arena but have thousands more supporters in a makeshift stadium outside the arena waiting for another speech. When the Tulsa fire marshal estimated that 6,200 people were inside and only a few dozen were milling about outside, it was embarrassing. Unwilling to call the Tulsa fire marshal a Trump-hating liar and unable to refute all the “fake news” footage from every outlet including Fox News and One America News Network the campaign blamed the media for stoking coronavirus fears and left-wing protesters scaring away families and blocking the doors, but the protests were also smaller than expected and far more peaceful than Trump might have preferred, and it was another rough news cycle for Trump.
The campaign boasted that 5 million or so people watched it on the internet, which might well be true, but we doubt it won Trump many new voters. The speech was a typically meandering harangue, with some weirder than usual moments. He attacked presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a number of nicknames and some seemingly contradictory accusations, criticizing Biden for supporting the tough-on-crime 1994 Crime Bill and also predicting that a President Biden will defund the police and allow criminals to run amok. He also bragged at length about how strong the economy had been before the coronavirus came along, and how great it will be when the coronavirus magically fades away, and he blamed the Chinese for the current unpleasantness, and said he’d told “his people” to stop testing so often to slow the rate of reported cases. Before the speech was even over the White House press office released a statement explaining that Trump was only joking, but couldn’t explain why it was appropriate for a President of the United States to joke about a disease that has already killed more than 120,000 Americans. He didn’t mention the national debate about racism and police brutality, except to criticize the commissioner of the National Football league for allowing players to kneel during the national anthem in protest.
He also did an extended monologue about the widely seen videotape of him very gingerly and uncertainly descending a ramp after a graduation ceremony at West Point, which made for an embarrassing news cycle a week or so ago and is the kind of thing most politicians would happily left fade from memory, and although we found the explanation further embarrassing the crowd seemed to think it the funniest comedy routine since the heyday of Bob Hope. He’d also been videotaped using two hands to drink from a cup of water, which he blamed on having saluted 600 cadets individually, and when he demonstrated that he could indeed drink from a glass of water with just one hand the crowd went wild at the feat of strength. Again, the fans love it, but it’s not likely to win any new voters.
When Trump returned to the White House aboard the Marine One helicopter he was videotaped walking across the lawn with his tie undone and a Make America Great Again ball cap in one hand, looking very exhausted and unhappy. That quickly made the rounds, delighting Trump’s many critics, and will probably fuel a few nights of late night comedy show monologues and lots of “memes” on social media. Meanwhile, we haven’t heard any spin from the White House press office that is at all convincing, and are eager to hear what they might come up with.
Tulsa’s a fun town full of good people and great architecture and real-deal American music, that horrific episode back in ’21 notwithstanding, and if you get the chance we urge you to visit. We don’t expect that Trump will be eager to return, though.
— Bud Norman