President Donald Trump's attempt to revive his re-election campaign sputtered badly on Saturday night as he travelled to Tulsa for his first mass rally in months and found a far smaller crowd than his aides had promised him, then delivered a disjointed speech that did not address the multiple crises facing the nation or scandals battering him in Washington.
The weakness of Trump's drawing power and political skills, in a state that voted for him overwhelmingly and in a format that he favours, raised new questions about his electoral prospects for a second term at a time when his poll numbers were already falling. And rather than speak to the wide cross-section of Americans who say they are concerned about police violence and systemic racism, he continued to use racist language, describing the coronavirus as "Kung Flu".
While the President's campaign had claimed that more than a million people had sought tickets for the rally, the 19,000-seat BOK Centre was at least one-third empty during the rally. A second, outdoor venue was so sparsely attended that he and Vice-President Mike Pence both cancelled appearances there.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, falsely blamed the small numbers on "radical protesters" and the news media who he said had frightened away supporters. But there were few protests in the area and no sizable effort to block entrances, and there was a strong security presence.
Trump was furious about the unused outdoor stage and the comparatively thin crowd in the stadium, according to two people familiar with his reaction. News broadcasts carried video of the partially empty stadium, and even the Drudge Report, a reliably conservative website, carried an all-caps headline that said "MAGA LESS MEGA" with a picture of rows and rows of empty blue seats.
Trump faced criticism for ignoring pleas from officials about health risks to rallygoers and for restarting his "Make America Great Again!" rallies in a city where a white mob massacred hundreds of black residents 99 years ago.
In rambling, grievance-filled remarks, Trump made no reference to the Tulsa massacre of 1921 or to George Floyd, whose death at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis last month spurred global demands for racial justice. He also did not mention Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the US and fell just a day before his rally.
Instead, the President railed about "Left-wing radicals" who he falsely claimed were rioting in cities across the country and praised police officers who "get injured, they don't complain. They're incredible" while attempting to stop looters and rioters.
The President once again shrugged off the threat from the coronavirus, which he also called the "Chinese virus" at one point, and bragged that he has done "a phenomenal job" fighting the pandemic. He acknowledged that increased testing for the virus revealed more cases of infection, which he felt made the country look bad. "So I said to my people, 'slow the testing down,'" he said.
Many of the thousands of Trump supporters at the rally did not wear masks or stand six feet apart. The campaign conducted temperature checks and handed out masks, yet health experts remained concerned that the event could be a dangerous incubator for the virus, spreading through the building's recirculated air.
A few hours before the event, the campaign disclosed that six Trump campaign staff members who had been working on the rally had tested positive for the coronavirus during a routine screening.