Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated: Tue, 23 Jun 2020 16:49:14 GMT
President Donald Trump's hype about the potential crowd at his return to the campaign trail over the weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was off by 994,000 people.
He tweeted that 1 million RSVPs had been received. The Tulsa fire marshal told CNN that just under 6,200 people were in the BOK Center, which has a capacity of 19,000 people.
Faced with the thing Trump hates the most -- empty seats -- he and his White House have gone into overdrive to explain away why the crowd was so small. Here are the excuses they've offered up in the days since.
1) LOTS of people watched online!: "President Trump's rally in Tulsa attracted over 4 million unique viewers across all of the campaign's digital media channels," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement Saturday night. "The live-streamed pre-rally shows drew an audience of more than 2.5 million unique viewers by themselves. These numbers don't even include television viewers."
2) LOTS of people watched on TV!: "WOW! The Trump Rally gives @FoxNews the 'LARGEST SATURDAY NIGHT AUDIENCE IN ITS HUSTORY'," tweeted Trump on Monday. (And yes, he spelled "history" wrong.) "Isn't it amazing that virtually nobody in the Lamestream Media is reporting this rather major feat!"
On Tuesday, Trump spoke with reporters prior to leaving for Phoenix, adding, "We had a nice crowd. But we had the highest ratings in the history of Fox on Saturday night. And online, I heard the record was unbelievable. I heard the numbers were unbelievable. I think you probably know that. What were the numbers online? Do you know?"
3) "Radical" protesters!: Murtaugh told CNN's Ryan Nobles on Saturday night that "protestors interfered with supporters, even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented people from entering the rally." As Nobles, who was in Tulsa, wrote: "Several CNN teams on the ground throughout Tulsa on Saturday said they did not see any prolonged activity by protesters that prevented attendees from gaining access, although one entrance was closed for brief periods of time because of efforts to block that entry point."
4) The media!: In an interview with Fox on Tuesday morning, Trump suggested that the way the news media portrayed the public health risks of attending an indoor rally amid the coronavirus pandemic dampened attendance. "You had nothing but horrible press for a week and a half, two weeks leading up to it, that you were going to be in bad shape if you walked into the arena and various other thing," said Trump. Campaign manager Brad Parscale said something similar on Sunday: "The fact is that a week's worth of the fake news media warning people away from the rally because of Covid and protestors, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire, had a real impact on people bringing their families and children to the rally."
5) The curfew!: In that same interview, Trump seemed to blame a curfew in Tulsa for the lack of crowds, suggesting that people were forced to get out of line to get into the arena. "I don't know where they went but they had to leave," he told Fox News. That seems to run directly counter to Trump's own tweet on Friday. "I just spoke to the highly respected Mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum, who informed me there will be no curfew tonight or tomorrow for our many supporters attending the #MAGA Rally," he tweeted Friday afternoon. "Enjoy yourselves - thank you to Mayor Bynum! @gtbynum."
6) It actually was a giant success!: "The President was very pleased with the rally," said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany at Monday's White House briefing. "I was with him, and I just have to say these media reports that he was somehow furious on the plane -- there is no grounding in fact to that."
Remember that the rally was on Saturday night. Which means that in about 60 hours, the White House has made at least six different excuses for the disappointing crowd. Which is one every 10 hours -- an impressive pace!
The variety of excuses sounds a lot like young me trying to explain to a teacher why my assignment wasn't turned in on time. I had a stomachache! And I was out really late because my dad had a meeting! Also, my head was sort of hurting! And I actually did the assignment but then I spilled ketchup all over it!
Which, as anyone who has ever been a teacher (or who has a lick of common sense) knows, is just total BS. The reason you need to make excuses is because you either overpromised, underdelivered or both. And that's exactly what happened in Tulsa on Saturday night. Trump wanted this rally to be a triumphant return, an antidote to weeks of bad press and even worse polling. It wasn't. And so, his White House is in the process of trying to explain it all away.
But facts are stubborn things.