There are those things that were not supposed to happen. The Pittsburgh Pirates were not supposed to win the 1960 World Series. The New York Yankees were invincible, they always were, and the Pittsburgh Pirates hadn’t won a World Series since 1925 – but they won this one – on a Bill Mazeroski home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game. Those damned Yankees scored fifty-five runs, the most runs scored by any one team in World Series history, and more than twice as many as the Pirates’ twenty-seven. They won three blow-out games. But the Pirates won four close ones. That was sweet, but maybe you had to be there. Pittsburgh was a dismal place back then. This helped.
Not all surprises are that cheery. Donald Trump wasn’t supposed to win the Republican nomination. Donald Trump wasn’t supposed to win the presidency. Donald Trump was supposed to settle down and be presidential, but there was his inaugural address, his American Carnage speech. That was nasty. Things are awful – look around – there’s carnage everywhere – the nation is in ruins, a smoldering wasteland. And the whole world is against us. Even our allies are laughing at us. So it will be “America First” now – to hell with them all. No one expected this, and then everyone got used to this sort of thing. The world was a mess. Only Donald Trump, alone, can fix any of this. No one else can. Trust him on that. And the nation shrugged and moved on. He was strange. What did it matter?
It mattered. We now have no allies. We may have no foreign policy. And then disaster hit – the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918 followed by almost total economic collapse as everything had to close, and then forty-five million workers were suddenly unemployed, followed by the most racial unrest since the assassination of Martin Luther King – not much rioting after the initial few days but weeks and weeks of massive marches and major confrontations that seem to grow and grow and grow. Everyone is angry now. And then another unarmed black man dies. Everyone is even angrier. There may even be police reform – perhaps. But there will be trouble. NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from all its events. Confederate statues are falling. There will be a backlash. Perhaps the South will rise again. Who knows?
And it seems as if Donald Trump loves it all. Angry white people made him president. Perhaps they’ll do that again. Perhaps there are still enough of them. He talks about being reelected in a landslide. He knows that is less likely with every passing day, but perhaps he can will that to be so. But there are those things that are not supposed to happen.
One of those things was this:
President Donald Trump is “furious” at the “underwhelming” crowd at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday evening, a major disappointment for what had been expected to be a raucous return to the campaign trail after three months off because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple people close to the White House.
The president was fuming at his top political aides Saturday even before the rally began after his campaign revealed that six members of the advance team on the ground in Tulsa had tested positive for COVID-19, including Secret Service personnel, a person familiar with the discussions said.
Trump asked those around him why the information was exposed and expressed annoyance that the coverage ahead of his mega-rally was dominated by the revelation.
That was a simple question. Why in hell was the press allowed to report this? But it didn’t matter:
While the Trump re-election effort boasted that it would fill BOK Center, which seats more than 19,000 people, only 6,200 supporters ultimately occupied the general admission sections, the Tulsa fire marshal told NBC News.
The campaign was so confident about a high turnout that it set up an overflow area, which it had expected to attract thousands. But the plan was scrapped at the last minute when only dozens gathered at the time the vice president and the president were set to address the crowd inside.
“It’s politics 101: You under-promise and over-deliver,” a Trump ally said, conceding the missteps the Trump 2020 team took in the lead-up to the event by saying nearly 1 million people had responded to requests for admission.
This was not supposed to happen. Trump had been sneering all week that the Democrats would look pathetic because Tulsa would be jam-packed with more than a million people who LOVED him! That’s what his staff told him. And he didn’t see why that wouldn’t be true. This would be the start of the massive avalanche that would bury Biden and all those other fools.
Oops. It was time to rethink this:
Much of the blame is falling on campaign manager Brad Parscale, who in the days leading up the event aggressively touted the number of registrations, but those close to him stress that his job is safe, for now.
Last month, after dismal polling revealed that the president is trailing the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, in key battleground states that Trump won in 2016, Parscale was reprimanded and a deputy was brought in to help steer the ship.
There are growing concerns among Trump campaign officials that neither the president nor the 2020 team has a coherent message for why he should serve a second term. Saturday evening’s meandering nearly two-hour rally speech is the latest evidence of a lack of a targeted strategy to attack Biden with less than five months to go until the general election.
Perhaps it was time to stop winging this:
Many issues could have contributed to the poor attendance in Tulsa: a fear of contracting the virus, concern over potential protests and torrential thunderstorms in 95-degree heat. But outside advisers see the visuals of empty seats overshadowing Trump’s remarks as a significant problem for a president and a campaign that are obsessed with optics.
“This was a major failure,” one outside adviser said.
Perhaps it was time to add substance to this effort, or at least to assign blame, and Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni report on that:
In a statement, Mr. Parscale, the campaign manager who many advisers singled out for the overhyped numbers, claimed the reports about TikTok users and Korean pop music fans foiling attendance at the rally were inaccurate, and even raised the possibility of not allowing the news media to attend events in the future.
“Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” Mr. Parscale said. “Registering for a rally means you’ve RSVP’d with a cellphone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool.”
Instead, he blamed the news media for the low turnout.
“The fact is that 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.
In short, they reported the national news, and that screwed up everything, so perhaps they should be shut down or at least be shut out, but that was only one of many ideas:
Campaign officials on Sunday privately admitted that many people who had signed up to attend the event were not supporters but online tricksters. One campaign adviser claimed that “troll data” was still useful, claiming it would help the campaign avoid the same pitfall in the future.
The adviser said that the data could be put into the system to “tighten up the formula used to determine projected attendance for rallies.”
In an interview, Mr. Parscale said the empty arena was not his fault, and that local law enforcement in Tulsa had overreacted, making it difficult for supporters to gain entry. He claimed to have thousands of emails from supporters who tried to get into the Bank of Oklahoma Center and who were turned away, but he did not share those messages or names of supporters.
Parscale needs to shut up, and these rallies may need to shut down:
Several White House officials called the rally a disaster, and an unforced error that heightened tensions among some of the president’s government advisers and his campaign aides. What’s more, Mr. Trump’s White House advisers had repeatedly cautioned campaign aides against announcing an added appearance at an outdoor space, advice that was ignored as Mr. Parscale and campaign surrogates talked about it publicly.
The event does not portend additional large Trump rallies this summer, people familiar with the discussions said. The campaign had hoped to use the Tulsa event as a reset after the president’s slide in the polls in the wake of his administration’s failures responding to the coronavirus, and after his stoking of racial tensions amid nationwide protests over police brutality prompted by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
That “hope” is now dead
Mr. Parscale and others believed the event would demonstrate a real pent-up demand for Mr. Trump’s appearances – one the campaign has insisted exists. But some advisers privately questioned the data even before the event, and they feared the Tulsa rally was setting the team up for failure.
Now, some White House officials said the campaign was being dishonest about what had gone wrong, and they conceded that many of the president’s older supporters had decided attending the rally was too risky amid coronavirus fears that Mr. Trump has repeatedly played down.
What’s this? No one accounted for old people being sensible? That’s real trouble:
Outside advisers to the president said his team was fielding calls from nervous donors and Republican lawmakers, who were asking whether the poorly attended rally indicated problems that were too big to fix with just over four months until Election Day.
The problem may be Trump himself. Ruth Marcus saw this:
In his first campaign rally since the pandemic lockdowns began and Joe Biden clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, President Trump made clear – as clear as a stream-of-consciousness Trump speech can – how he plans to run against Biden: He won’t, not directly.
Instead, Trump will run against dual, intertwined caricatures.
First, against Biden as a doddering facsimile of his former self – someone who, as Trump suggested in Tulsa on Saturday night, confuses his wife with his sister, who doesn’t comprehend the talking points written for him by the “great students in English lit” who now work for Biden.
Second, against “the extremism and destruction and violence of the radical left” and against the Democratic Party as a “left-wing mob” to which the supposedly feeble Biden “has surrendered.”
As Trump argued, “If the Democrats gain power, then the rioters will be in charge and no one will be safe and no one will have control. Joe Biden is not the leader of his party. Joe Biden is a helpless puppet of the radical left.”
And that goes like this:
If the Hillary Clinton of Trump’s 2016 portrayal was a not-so-closet socialist, Trump implicitly acknowledges that playbook needs some adjusting when it comes to Biden 2020. “He’s not radical left,” Trump said of the former vice president. “I don’t think he knows what he is anymore, but he was never radical left, but he’s controlled by the radical left, and now he’s really controlled.”
Biden “has no control,” Trump said. “Does anybody honestly think he controls these radical maniacs? You know what he says to his wife when he’s not confusing her with his sister? ‘Get me the hell out of here. These people are crazy.'”
But then there is what’s missing:
Note the near total absence of a positive agenda for reelection. This is always a challenge for a president running for a second term, and there is an inevitable element, in any reelection campaign, of warning of progress being undone and clocks turned back.
But the Trumpian vision, as outlined in Tulsa, is distinctively devoid of ideas. Trump spent far more time reenacting his water-drinking and ramp-walking at West Point – indeed, he spent more time recounting his purportedly valiant negotiations with Boeing over a new Air Force One – than he did describing what he would do with four more years beyond nominating additional conservative judges.
That wasn’t supposed to happen, but now it’s no more than this:
Trump is reduced to a combination of scare tactics and jaw-dropping gaslighting. Electing Biden means that “your 401(k) and money itself will be worthless.” Right, money itself. Biden is “a puppet for China,” more than a bit rich given Trump’s own former national security adviser’s description of the president’s begging for Chinese help to win reelection. The “Dems” will “eliminate private health insurance” and “ban fracking” – no matter that Biden does not support either of these steps. “They want to defund and dissolve our police departments, think of that” – no matter that Biden has rejected that approach. And, classic Trump, “Racial justice begins with Joe Biden’s retirement from public life.”
This from the president of “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville protests. This, from the president who could not, would not, make a single mention of George Floyd on Saturday night – but took pains to lament an “unhinged left-wing mob trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments… demolish our heritage.”
He asks us all to hate these people and later his son Eric called them no more than “animals” and Marcus sees this:
Trump’s problem in Tulsa wasn’t just empty seats. It was empty rhetoric.
Karen Tumulty adds this:
Trump spent nearly all of the 101 minutes that he spoke airing grievances – including a peculiar reenactment of his shaky walk down a ramp after his West Point commencement speech, a daredevil feat that in his telling would have tested a Wallenda.
One of the biggest cheers he got from the crowd was when he demonstrated that yes, he is indeed capable of drinking a glass of water using only one hand. That there was an appearance to the contrary at West Point a week before, he explained, was because of his fear of ruining an expensive silk tie.
But to focus on Trump’s clownish performance is to miss what was truly disturbing about what he said — and didn’t. He made no mention of the death of George Floyd and said nothing about the systemic racism that has brought people into the streets by the hundreds of thousands demanding change.
Instead, he condemned the largely peaceful protesters, including the ones outside his rally, as “agitators” and “thugs.”
And then he went where his team wished he hadn’t:
As for the novel coronavirus that has taken the lives of at least 118,000 Americans since early February, Trump suggested that concern about the growing number of cases in many areas is overblown – a function of the fact that more people are, finally, being tested.
“Here’s the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please,” he said.
The White House claimed it was a joke. But the president’s contempt for measures that public health experts say are crucial was clear when he said that some of those now being classified as victims of the virus are 10-year-olds with “the sniffles.”
And he couldn’t resist throwing in a racist trope, referring to it as “Kung flu” – a term that his own counselor Kellyanne Conway has called “highly offensive.”
Brad Parscale isn’t the problem. Donald Trump is, and Robin Givhan saw this:
The president paused for dramatic effect before he walked onstage at his Tulsa rally. He was silhouetted under a blue and white “Make America Great Again” banner and against an American flag. And in the few seconds that he stood basking in adulation, he resembled a giant black rectangle. A massive, inanimate void.
When he emerged into the light, he walked into the cheering embrace of a mostly unmasked crowd bedecked in red Trump hats and MAGA T-shirts, along with the occasional QAnon tank top and “Don’t Tread on Me” pullover.
It’s tempting to say it was a crowd that didn’t look anything like America because it appeared to be so lacking in diversity – so overwhelmingly white. But, in fact, the crowd looked precisely like America does in more than a few suburbs, counties and hollers. In churches and offices. In the president’s inner circle. There were only a few brown faces sprinkled directly behind the president’s lectern, along with a small cluster of them under “Black Voices for Trump” signs.
Such a homogenous throng might be jarring to some. For others, it’s completely normal and right. For the president, it was like coming home.
It seems that the visuals, the optics, do tell it all:
The crowd also looked like the America that baffles so much of the world in the midst of a pandemic. It was a snapshot of an America that refuses to wear face masks even as science has argued that doing so is one of the few ways to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Masks are not for one’s own good, but for the public good. It would be easy to explain this lapse on this country’s tradition of rugged individualism. But sometimes cruel selfishness gums up our understanding of personal freedom.
The crowd, draped in the red, white and blue of the flag, looked like an America determined to celebrate the rah-rah idea of our national identity, not one ready to wrestle with the uncomfortable, challenging nuances of it. How else could folks cheer a president after he suggested a new law punishing flag burning – or as the Supreme Court has called it, “symbolic speech” that’s protected by the First Amendment?
But there was no surprise:
It was Trump’s crowd. Everything is his. Everything is because of him. “We – I – have done a phenomenal job,” he said about the federal government’s response to the pandemic. “I saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”
So that message didn’t change:
He bragged about saving the nation’s capital from civic unrest in the aftermath of Floyd’s death in police custody; even though predominantly peaceful protesters were set upon with chemical agents and rubber bullets.
He knows about racial justice. He practically invented racial justice, says the self-proclaimed law and order president who had no idea of the meaning of Juneteenth, which was when his rally was originally scheduled, even though for three years his own White House has been sending out proclamations recognizing it.
He extolled the virtues of policing in Tulsa but offered no thoughtful consideration of the 1921 riot in which white residents – aided by law enforcement – destroyed a prosperous black enclave and killed its residents.
Then with his chest thrust forward he boasted: “I’ve done more for the black community in four years than Joe Biden has done in 47 years.”
And his crowd, his America, roared.
But as Eisenhower once said of such people – “Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
They are outnumbered now, which was not supposed to happen. And at Politico, Gabby Orr argues that Trump should worry about what Obama did in 2008:
At a rally in the Bible Belt he talked about the church he’d attended for two decades in Chicago. Calling for an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to tackle poverty, he promised churches and religious organizations would play a greater public role in delivering social services under his administration. And during a faith-based forum in Southern California, he said his own support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, did not mean he wasn’t interested in reducing abortion in America.
The strategy worked. Obama’s campaign stops at churches, sermon-like speeches and his professed belief in Jesus Christ earned him 24 percent of the white evangelical vote – doubling Democrats’ support among young white evangelicals and gaining 3 percentage points with the overall demographic from the 2004 election.
Now, allies of President Donald Trump worry his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, can do the same – snatching a slice of a critical voting bloc from Trump when he can least afford departures from his base.
They should worry:
Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, has performed better in recent polling among white evangelicals – and other religious groups – than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and is widely perceived as more religious than the current White House occupant. A Pew Research study conducted earlier this year showed that a majority of U.S. adults (63 percent) think Trump is “not at all” or “not too religious,” versus 55 percent who said they believed Biden is somewhat or very religious.
Many conservative evangelical leaders have argued that Biden’s positions on cultural issues – like abortion, judges and religious freedom – are disqualifying. Still, anxiety is growing inside Trump’s orbit about the former vice president’s ability to peel off Christian voters who supported Trump in 2016, including the 81 percent of white evangelicals he carried, according to eight administration officials, White House allies and people involved with the Trump campaign.
Such an outcome could deal a fatal blow to the president’s reelection, which largely hinges on expanding his support among religious voters to compensate for enthusiasm gaps elsewhere.
This really was not supposed to happen:
Some of Biden’s campaign appearances and debate answers have been infused with religious undertones, and his campaign reportedly hosts a weekly call with faith leaders to crowdsource policy and personnel suggestions.
At a CNN town hall in February, Biden said his faith “gives me some reason to have hope and purpose” and praised the “ultimate act of Christian charity” shown by members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., after they forgave a white supremacist who murdered nine members of their congregation in a 2014 mass shooting.
In an op-ed last December that included references to Scripture and Pope Francis’ second encyclical “Laudato Si,” Biden described “the core concepts of decency, fair play and virtue” that he learned through his Catholic upbringing as guiding principles in his political career.
And all that the Biden campaign has to do is to run clips from Fox Business Channel – Stewart Varney and Lou Dobbs ripping into Pope Francis’ encyclical as an attack on free-market capitalism, that has done nothing but good for everyone, and screaming that Pope Francis should just shut up, because he knows nothing of the real world. The same was happening on Fox News – Hannity and those people – Pope Francis was a fool. Trump will join in, and that could sink him:
Even Trump allies recognize Biden has an opening to strike the empathetic and compassionate tone that Trump eschewed in many of his comments about the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over racial inequality.
In addition to forcefully clearing out protesters so he could wave a Bible in front of Washington’s St. John’s Church the day after part of the sanctuary was set on fire – a wildly unpopular move, according to recent polls – Trump has labeled people involved in the anti-racism demonstrations “thugs” and recently struggled in a television interview with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer to cite examples of how he’s “grown in his faith” since becoming president.
Biden could pull an Obama here in a way no one expected. But none of this was supposed to happen. It just did.
So, who is going to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game and save the day this time?