President Donald Trump is “furious” at the “underwhelming” crowd at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday evening, a major disappointment for what was expected to be a raucous return to the campaign trail after a three-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple people close to the White House.
The president was fuming at his top political aides on 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 that information was exposed and expressed annoyance that the coverage ahead of his mega-rally was dominated by that revelation.
While the Trump re-election effort boasted it would fill the BOK Center that seats more than 19,000 people, only 6,200 supporters ultimately filled the general admission sections of the enclosed arena, the Tulsa fire marshal told NBC News.
The campaign was so confident about high turnout that it set up an overflow area that was expected to attract thousands. But that plan was scrapped last-minute when only dozens gathered at the time the vice president and president were set to address the crowd before the official rally inside.
“It’s politics 101, you under-promise and over-deliver,” a Trump ally explained, conceding the missteps the Trump 2020 team took in the lead up to the event by touting that nearly one million people had responded to requests for admission.
Much of the blame is falling to campaign manager Brad Parscale, who in the days leading up the event aggressively touted the number of registrations, but those close to him stress his job is safe, for now.
Last month, after dismal polling revealed 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 have 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.
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 campaign that are both obsessed with optics.
“This was a major failure,” one outside adviser said.