US Politics

Tulsa rally stand-up routine proves Candidate Trump is still dangerous

BY David Waywell | tweet @DavidWaywell   /  22 June 2020

Trump’s rally in Tulsa must rank somewhere beneath Trump Casino but above Trump University as ventures he’d like to forget. Democrats have good reason to gloat. There were clear indicators on Saturday that Trump is a declining force in the public’s sentiments.

Trump’s rally in Tulsa must rank somewhere beneath Trump Casino but above Trump University as ventures he’d like to forget. Democrats have good reason to gloat. There were clear indicators on Saturday that Trump is a declining force in the public’s sentiments.

This was the state of Oklahoma, which Donald Trump won in 2016 with 65.3% of the vote. This was the first stop of his re-election campaign, and if he can’t fill a 19,199 seat arena in a state that has been red since Nixon, then it does not bode well for the coming months.

The danger for Democrats is that they are perfectly suited to throwing away unbeatable positions, especially when their confidence is running high. Tulsa was damaging for Trump and hugely embarrassing.

Yet that wasn’t the entire story, and Democrats should still be wary of a campaigner who is showing he can still make a fight of it on personalities against Joe Biden. The media machine feed like sharks around the carcass of any good story, and soon the only reality they know is that of the thrashing. Pick apart Tulsa more forensically and there’s more here than dead meat.

The campaign had certainly been boasting of huge crowds. Trump himself tweeted out: “Almost One Million people request tickets for the Saturday Night Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma!”

Now we know that a million didn’t turn up, but, in truth, they were never going to. It seems the turnout was down partly because American teenagers joined in a prank, organised via the TikTok app, to take as many tickets out of circulation as possible.

It’s a good story that might raise the prices of US tech stock, but it’s also misleading, as are so many involving big numbers and bigger technology. Before the event, Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign chief, said that over a million tickets had gone out.

Let’s assume that’s true. Let’s also assume that the TikTok campaign ate into a huge portion of that total. Even if teenagers accounted for 98% of the sales it would still have left enough real Trump supporters to have filled the hall. Concern about Covid-19 would have also affected the level of non-uptake.

Most importantly, this was never about the rally. Naturally it looks painful for Trump, but if (as many speculate) this really amounted to a big data-mining operation, it might still have been a success. That data will be used to inundate voters between now and November. Underestimate Trump’s ability to be a functional president, certainly, but never underestimate the Republicans’ data operation.

The second reason Democrats should be wary is Trump himself. For all the mess he’s made as president – the scale of the incompetence revealed by John Bolton’s book is shocking – there’s no doubt about his power as a candidate.

The vibes coming from the press are very reminiscent of 2016, when Trump’s ability to sell his own brand was completely overlooked. Hillary Clinton would have been a boring but eminently stable president, but she was also a lousy candidate. She hadn’t learned any lessons from being knocked aside as Obama’s star hurtled past. Trump the President is not the same as Trump the Campaigner, and there were moments in Trump’s speech that Joe Biden’s team might want to study.

In the rush to humiliate the President, many in the profession of punditry are overreaching. Trump is mocked for obsessing over the drinking incident at West Point and relitigating the details of the “slippery ramp”, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable as many are claiming. Soundbites don’t do it justice, but I’d defy anybody to watch that portion of his speech in full and claim he doesn’t know how to connect with an audience or to deliver a story.

“There’s no way I can make it down that ramp without falling on my ass, General,” he says, his voice adopting that slightly Jerry Lewis-like quality, a veteran stand-up totally at ease before his audience. “So now I have a choice. I can stay up there for a couple of hours and wait until I’m rescued, or I can go down this really steep really really really… It’s an ice skating rink. It’s brutal. So, I said, General, get ready because I might grab you so fast. […] It turned out to be worse than anything. I would have been better off if I fell and slid down the damn ramp!”

The schtick is tested. The laughter from the crowd real. It underlines how he engages with his audience, and even at one moment indulges in a bit of physical comedy as he mocks his shuffle down the ramp.

Trump is in trouble. That’s certainly true. But it doesn’t justify denying what also happened in Tulsa – Trump was on form. It was the re-emergence of Candidate Trump and that means we’re now talking about a different kind of political beast, one who has skills that, thus far, Joe Biden has failed to match.

Now, some might argue that Biden doesn’t need to match them. That is true. The election will be the anti-Trump election and it’s Biden’s job to slip up the least. Play with a straight bat and let the ball come onto him. There’s no need to go seeking to smash this election out the park; leave that job to Trump.

Unfortunately for Biden, smashing balls out of parks is one area where Donald Trump does excel. In baseball terms, he’s a slugger. Nine times out of ten he misses the ball but, when he connects, he hits it out of the ground.

A blue wave is still the most likely outcome in November (Trump is now haemorrhaging in the polls) but imagine one nightmare scenario for Democrats:

Trump and Biden are in the last presidential debate and Biden has one of his not-entirely-uncommon brain farts. Trump leaps onto it, delivers a killer putdown that has the audience laughing. Would it be enough to make the American people forget about four years of chaos, corruption, and straight down the line criminality?

To put it more bluntly, does the scale of the loss that America has faced in 2020 mean Joe Biden’s ability to speak about life and death will be enough to carry the election? Does America want a healer? Have they had enough of the entertainer? Do they go with kind-hearted old Joe, or the guy with the big smile and the fake tan?

That’s perhaps a harder question to answer than it first appears. Before Tulsa, people wondered if Trump would even turn up to the presidential debates against Biden. Based on Saturday night, it might be more reasonable to ask: why wouldn’t he?


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