WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign hit out at protesters and the media on Sunday as it scrambled to reset after a disappointing re-launch at a rally beset by missteps.
The event in Tulsa, Oklahoma was marred by empty seats, coronavirus infections within the campaign and a rambling speech by Trump that was criticised for having nothing of substance to say on the pandemic or racial tensions gripping America.
The White House had promised Saturday’s much-hyped event – Trump’s first rally in three months – would be flooded with up to 100,000 people, but large sections of the 19,000-capacity BOK Center were empty.
The local fire department said only about 6,200 people were present, according to US media, but campaign officials claimed at least 12,000 attended.
An outdoor event for the overflow crowd was cancelled because no one showed up, despite Trump’s team boasting of huge interest ahead of time and more than a million ticket requests.
Trump has shown a love of big crowds, frequently boasting about the size of his rallies compared with those of Joe Biden, his Democratic rival for November’s presidential election. The president refrained from commenting on the rally as the dust settled the following morning, tweeting only to deliver a Father’s Day greeting.
But several US media outlets, citing multiple sources close to the White House, said he was “furious” at the small crowd in Tulsa.
Senior Trump campaign aide Mercedes Schlapp told Fox News Sunday that attendees had been unable to get into the BOK Center because their way was blocked by demonstrators.
But reporters on the ground said they saw no problems for people trying to enter.
Reports have been circulating in the last week that teen users of social media platform TikTok were block-booking tickets with no intention of turning up in a bid to embarrass Trump. The campaign angrily denied it had been duped, however.
“These phoney ticket requests never factor into our thinking,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
Parscale instead blamed the poor attendance on the “fake news media” for reporting on health concerns over the staging of a large indoor gathering during the coronavirus outbreak.
He said images from the race protests that have gripped the country had also scared away families.
The stakes could not be higher for Trump’s political fortunes, five months before an election in which he is currently trailing Biden by 9.5 points nationwide, according to RealClearPolitics.
Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton told ABC News on Sunday he hopes history will remember his old boss as “a one-term president who didn’t plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral”.