President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down, burn statue of Confederate general in DC US attorney in NYC who spearheaded probes of Trump allies refuses to leave as DOJ pushes ouster Trump to host 4th of July event despite pleas from lawmakers to cancel MORE will take the stage Saturday night at the most controversial rally of his presidency to date.
Rallies have been a hallmark of Trump’s entire brand, and his campaign is eager to get him back in front of a boisterous crowd of thousands of supporters.
But this rally will take place during a pandemic that has killed nearly 120,000 Americans and counting. Public health experts warn it is dangerous to group thousands of people together indoors and professional sports leagues are preparing to return in “bubbles.”
The rally also comes amid nationwide protests over police violence against African Americans. Trump was initially to hold the rally on Juneteenth, a holiday that marks the end of slavery. He shifted it to Saturday in response to criticism, but reignited controversy a few days later by claiming he made the annual celebration recognized by millions of people “very famous.”
Tulsa, Okla., is the site of a terrible tragedy where hundreds of African Americans were killed in 1921. The Tulsa World editorial board wrote this week that it was the wrong place and wrong time for Trump to be holding a rally.
The president inflamed already simmering tensions Friday when he appeared to threaten protesters considering gathering to oppose his presence. The White House later said Trump was only speaking about violent protesters.
Some Republicans say that the campaign is risking too much by holding the rally in the middle of a pandemic because it could result in blowback if subsequent cases in Oklahoma are tied to the event.
“I understand the president’s desire to get back out there, he likes doing events, and wouldn’t be critical of that at all. We have a very unique set of challenges right now that should suggest that this is not the best time to be doing so,” said Doug Heye, former Republican National Committee communications director.
“The risk versus reward here doesn’t appear to be a strong one for the campaign,” he added.
The event is expected to take on a “festival-like” atmosphere with musical acts, dozens of surrogates on hand and tens of thousands of supporters expected to fill the BOK Center, which holds 19,000 people, and surrounding outdoor area. Trump plans to address the crowd inside as well as those gathered at an outdoor stage set up adjacent to the arena, according to a campaign official.
One source close to the campaign viewed the rally as a potential boon to Trump’s spirits after a difficult week that saw a pair of Supreme Court rulings go against the administration and the publication of excerpts from former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonJournalist Aaron Maté says Democrats are responsible for giving John Bolton publicity Federal judge appears skeptical of blocking Bolton book release McEnany: Trump likes to hire people with ‘countervailing viewpoints’ MORE’s book, which portrays Trump as “stunningly uninformed” and motivated by his own self-interests above the national interest.
“One, I think it will be a good outlet for him,” the source said. “Two, it’s a huge morale boost for the campaign.”
Official trips and campaign stops usually generate a fair amount of positive local press coverage, but Saturday’s rally is poised to be an outlier with the possibility of counterprotests and concerns about spreading the coronavirus.
The campaign plans to conduct temperature checks and distribute masks and hand sanitizer to attendees, though rallygoers will not be required to wear masks while inside the arena. The Trump campaign has asked attendees at Saturday’s rally to sign waivers agreeing not to sue the campaign or the host venue in the event they get sick.
Trump and his aides have done little to bat down concerns that the indoor event poses a significant risk for spreading COVID-19, instead relying heavily on Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R) insistence that the state is ready to host the massive gathering.
Trump conceded in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that there is a chance his supporters could get sick, but called it “tiny” and said he’d feel comfortable with his daughter, Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpMelania Trump is ‘behind-the-scenes’ but ‘unbelievably influential’: book Tom Cotton defends Ivanka Trump over canceled commencement speech: ‘Woke’ critics ‘ruined it for everyone’ Ivanka Trump releases prepared speech after being dropped as Wichita State commencement speaker MORE, sitting in the crowd because “she’s young.”
Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for the Trump campaign, insisted attendees will be “perfectly safe,” but noted in an interview with Bloomberg TV that Oklahoma does not require mask-wearing in public, shrugging off a key safety measure experts say can prevent the spread of the virus.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she did not plan to wear a mask, even as she acknowledged earlier in the week rallygoers “assume a personal risk.” McEnany has accused the media of failing to raise the same health concerns with respect to the large-scale demonstrations against police brutality, an argument that has been echoed by other allies of the White House.
“It’s amusing to watch the same politicians and reporters who cheered on the rioters and protesters who gathered en masse turn around and criticize the president for holding this rally,” said one former White House official.
Health experts describe mass gatherings in general as risky during the coronavirus pandemic but outdoor gatherings are believed to be safer than those held indoors.
“It’s a risk. It’s an indoor venue, you have a mass gathering, you can’t really do social distancing,” said Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, who noted that Oklahoma has seen an increase in coronavirus cases. The state reported a new daily record in cases on Thursday with 450 positive tests.
Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci and Birx advised Trump against holding Tulsa rally: report Overnight Health Care: Trio of states report record-high COVID-19 case counts | Oklahoma coronavirus cases spike just ahead of Trump rally | Trump blasts health adviser: ‘Fauci has nothing to do with NFL Football’ White House dismissal of COVID-19 concerns draws criticism MORE, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said “of course” he wouldn’t choose to attend the rally and beseeched would-be attendees to wear a mask. NBC reported Friday that Fauci and Deborah Birx, both members of the White House coronavirus task force, warned officials about the risks associated with holding rallies.
The content of Trump’s rally speeches are often similar, with the president ticking through achievements, chastising the media and mocking his opponents. It’s unlikely he will significantly adapt his tone Saturday to reflect the crises of the moment, according to one adviser.
But this will be his first rally in more than three months, and the presidential race has shifted dramatically since then.
Joe BidenJoe BidenSusan Rice calls Trump administration ‘racist to its core,’ says Senate backers belong in ‘trash heap of history’ Trump mocks Biden event that practiced social distancing Trump to visit Arizona, Wisconsin next week MORE has not only emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the former vice president has solidified a sizable lead over Trump in national and key swing state polls. A Fox News poll released Thursday showed Biden ahead by 12 percentage points nationally.
Trump campaign manager Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE wouldn’t acknowledge the possibility of defeat in November, however, signaling that the president was prepared to escalate his attacks on Biden.
“We’re going to win,” Parscale said Friday on Fox News. “The president is — we haven’t even seen him get started yet on Joe Biden. We’ve still got a long ways to go.”