Trump launches comeback rally, though crowds lighter than expected

Trump also leaned in hard on cultural issues, including the push to tear down statues and rename military bases.

By Associated Press

President Donald Trump launched his comeback rally Saturday by defining the upcoming election as a stark choice between national heritage and left-wing radicalism.

“The choice in 2020 is very simple,” Trump said. “Do you want to bow before the left-wing mob, or do you want to stand up tall and proud as Americans?”

Trump unleashed months of pent-up grievances about the coronavirus, which he dubbed the “Kung flu,” which originated in China.

He complained that robust coronavirus testing was making his record look bad — and suggested the testing effort should slow down.

“Here’s the bad part. When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more cases,” he said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down.’ They test and they test.”

“Speed up the testing,” Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, tweeted later.

In the hours before the rally, crowds were significantly lighter than expected, and campaign officials scrapped plans for Trump to address an overflow space outdoors.

Before the rally, Trump’s campaign revealed that six staff members who were helping set up for the event had tested positive for the coronavirus. Campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said neither the affected staffers nor anyone who was in immediate contact with them would attend the event.

Trump devoted more than 10 minutes of his 105-minute rally — with the crowd laughing along — trying to explain away a pair of odd images from his speech last weekend at West Point, blaming his slippery leather-soled shoes for video of him walking awkwardly down a ramp as he left the podium. And then he declared that he used two hands to drink a cup of water that day because he didn’t want to spill water on his tie — and proceeded to this time drink with just one hand.

Trump also leaned in hard on cultural issues, including the push to tear down statues and rename military bases honoring Confederate generals following nationwide protests about racial injustice.

“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments,” Trump said. “They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new repressive regime in its place.”

Trump also floated the idea of a one-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of burning an American flag, an act of protest protected by the First Amendment. And he revived his attacks on Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who emigrated from Somalia as a child, claiming she would want “to make the government of our country just like the country from where she came, Somalia: no government, no safety, no police, no nothing — just anarchy.”

“And now she’s telling us how to run our country,” Trump continued. “No, thank you.”

After a three-month break from rallies, Trump spent the evening reviving his greatest hits, including boasts about the pre-pandemic economy and complaints about the media. But his scattershot remarks made no mention of some of the flashpoints roiling the nation, including the abrupt firing of a U.S. attorney in Manhattan, the damaging new book from his former national security adviser or the killing of George Floyd.

City officials had expected a crowd of 100,000 people or more in downtown Tulsa. Trump’s campaign, for its part, declared that it had received over a million ticket requests. The crowd that gathered was far less than that, though the rally, being broadcast on cable, also targeted voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

The president’s campaign tried to point fingers elsewhere over the smaller-than-expected crowds, accusing protesters of blocking access to metal detectors and preventing people from entering the rally. Three Associated Press journalists reporting in Tulsa for several hours leading up to the president’s speaking did not see protesters block entry to the area where the rally was held.

The campaign handed out masks and hand sanitizer, but there was no requirement that participants use them and few did. Participants also underwent a temperature check.

“I don’t think it’s anything worse than the flu,” said Brian Bernard, 54, a retired IT worker from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who sported a Trump 2020 hat. “I haven’t caught a cold or a flu in probably 15 years, and if I haven’t caught a cold or flu yet, I don’t think I’m gonna catch COVID.”