Things didn’t quite go as President Donald Trump had planned in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday for his first campaign rally since March. Days earlier, Trump had said “we’re either close to or over 1 million people wanting to go” to the rally. “Nobody has heard of numbers like this,” he boasted. “We expect to have a record-setting crowd. We’ve never had an empty seat, and we certainly won’t in Oklahoma.” When Saturday night rolled around, though, there were plenty of empty seats at the 19,000-capacity arena in Tulsa. [Update, June 21, 2020, at 10 a.m.: Even saying “half-empty” may be an exaggeration. Andrew Little, the public information officer for the Tulsa Fire Department, told Forbes that attendance at the rally was just under 6,200 people. Update, June 21, 2020, at 1:30 p.m.: A Trump campaign official said 12,000 people entered the arena.]
Trump’s campaign had expected such a huge crowd that the president planned to give a speech to an overflow group of supporters outside of the rally. But the outdoor portion ended up being canceled as there were barely any people there. A “campaign source” told CNN that they were afraid of angering Trump because of the thin crowds. In canceling the outside speech, the campaign blamed protesters, saying they “interfered with supporters” and blocked “access to metal detectors, which prevented people from entering the rally.” Reporters on the ground, though, noted that there weren’t really a lot of protesters in Tulsa on Saturday.
The campaign also made a point of stating that at least Trump was holding a rally, compared with “the sleepy campaign being run by Joe Biden from his basement in Delaware.” Shortly before the start of the event, the campaign sent a text message to people who had signed up for tickets: “There’s still space!” There were so few people outside that workers started to dismantle the outdoor stage even before Trump started to speak inside the arena.
Trump himself seemed to make a nod to the smaller-than-expected crowd as he appeared to blame protesters and the media. “We had some very bad people outside,” he said. “They were doing bad things.” He also pointed a finger at the media, suggesting journalists had been discouraging people from attending. “I’ve been watching the fake news for weeks now, and everything is negative—don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything,” he said. Even though the campaign handed out masks to supporters as they filed into the arena, most were not wearing them and did not seem particularly concerned about social distancing.
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