President Trump, publicly fixated on crowd sizes, looked out "in horror" at "the endless rows of empty blue seats" before taking the stage Saturday night at Tulsa's Bank of Oklahoma Center, The New York Times reports. Fewer than 6,200 ticket holders had showed up at the 19,000-seat arena, according to Tulsa's fire marshal.
"Trump's mood had improved" by the end of the rally, the Times reports, but he arrived back at the White House "with a defeated expression on his face, holding a crumpled red campaign hat in one hand. Exactly what went wrong was still being dissected on Sunday." Here are four factors that likely played a role:
1. Overselling: Trump, campaign manager Brad Parscale, and allies bragged for days that more than a million people had reserved tickets for the rally.
"You never, ever brag about ticket reservations," writes HuffPost's Yashar Ali, explaining he ran big rallies in his "previous life in politics." You're "embarrassed if people don't show up," but "it also discourages attendance."
2. "TikTok Teens and K-Pop Stans": That's how the Times summarizes a mostly underground campaign on TikTok and Twitter, fueled by fans of Korean pop music, to prank Trump by reserving plausibly hundreds of thousands of rally tickets. "K-pop Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information amongst each other very quickly," said YouTuber Elijah Daniel, 26.
3. Trump fans were scared: Parscale disavowed responsibility for the no-shows, claiming "the fake news media warning people away from the rally because of COVID and protesters, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire, had a real impact." The only mainstream media outlet regularly showing footage of burning buildings is Fox News, and some people did leave before Trump arrived because "they did not want to be in the city after dark," The Washington Post's David Weigel reported. White House officials also speculated that real coronavirus concerns kept many older Trump fans away. Parscale and allies claimed protesters blocked the stadium entrance, though "reporters present said there were few protests," the Times notes.
4. Oklahoma is red but small: Given COVID-19 headwinds, Trump's campaign shouldn't have picked a state with just over a million registered Republicans, Ali argues. Parscale should have held Trump's comeback rally in Florida (4.8 million registered Republicans) or Texas (more than 6 million).