WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign on Sunday brushed off the underwhelming size of the crowd at his first political rally in three months, blaming “fake news media” reports of the threat of coronavirus infections and the possibility of protests for keeping people away.
The 19,000-seat BOK Center arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, appeared to be a bit more than half full Saturday night, even though the president’s campaign last week boasted that a million people had registered to attend. The Trump campaign said about 12,000 people passed through metal detectors at the entrances.
An outdoor rally for an overflow crowd was called off because few were there, while the arena’s upper gallery was largely empty.
For the cheering supporters who did show up, Trump gave them what they came to hear: nearly two hours of political taunts.
He railed against his Democratic opponent in the November national election, former Vice President Joe Biden, attacked “radical left” protesters demonstrating in recent weeks against police abuses in the U.S., and blamed China for the spread of what he called the “kung flu,” his derisive term for the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 120,000 people in the U.S. and infected more than 2.2 million.
Trump called his sign-waving supporters “warriors” and declared that "the silent majority is stronger than ever before." He boasted about his conservative judicial appointees, low taxes, the booming stock market, the wall under construction on the southern border with Mexico to keep out undocumented immigrants and adding to the U.S. military budget.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale on Sunday said the crowd size was kept down by several factors.
“A week’s worth of the fake news media warning people away from the rally because of COVID and protesters, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire, had a real impact on people bringing their families and children to the rally,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued warnings that large gatherings such as Trump’s rally are possible breeding grounds for the spread of the coronavirus. The Trump campaign checked the temperatures of rally-goers and handed out face masks to everyone, although it did not require anyone to wear one.
As news cameras scanned the crowd, only a small portion of those watching the rally appeared to be wearing a mask.
Trump is scheduled to travel Tuesday to the southwestern state of Arizona, where his agenda includes speaking to students in Phoenix, a city that began requiring wearing masks in public on Saturday.
Regarding Saturday’s rally, Parscale said protesters “even blocked entrances to the rally at times,” although media reporters on the scene said they saw few protesters and that people who wanted to attend the rally appeared to walk in unimpeded.
Parscale dismissed reports that TikTok and K-Pop fans had flummoxed the Trump campaign by registering for tickets to the rally, to make it appear there would be a huge crowd, with no intention of attending.
The campaign manager said, “We constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool. These phony ticket requests never factor into our thinking.”
He added, “For the media to now celebrate the fear that they helped create is disgusting, but typical. And it makes us wonder why we bother credentialing media for events when they don’t do their full jobs as professionals.”
Trump campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp told “Fox News Sunday” that despite the Tulsa crowd size, 5.3 million people watched on Trump campaign digital channels, giving the rally a much broader reach than might have appeared from the telecast of the event.
Biden’s campaign scoffed at the size of the Tulsa crowd, saying, "Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it is no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him."
National polls show Biden pulling out to an average lead of 9.5 percentage points over Trump less than five months before the election, according to a compilation of polls by Real Clear Politics.
Biden has shunned any political rallies, giving television interviews from his home in the eastern state of Delaware and making a few appearances in nearby Philadelphia for speeches before small gatherings. He has not held a news conference in nearly three months.