June 22, 2020

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). Peter Weber

August 9, 2019

As President Trump prepares for a 10-day stay at his golf resort in New Jersey starting Friday, punctuated early on with a big-dollar fundraiser in New York's Hamptons, nobody in the White House seems happy with Trump's visit Wednesday to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the cities where two back-to-back shootings over the weekend left 31 victims dead. Trump and some of his aides publicly called the visits a big success, but privately, aides "conceded Thursday that his visits to two cities in mourning did not go as planned," CNN reported Thursday evening. That was already clear by Thursday morning, as New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman told CNN.

The perception got worse as video emerged of Trump bragging falsely about his crowd sizes while visiting victims in the El Paso hospital. "White House officials blocked reporters and their cameras from entering the two hospitals," fearing "a moment like the one that is now going viral," CNN reports, but Trump's social media team released glowing photos and a campaign-style video of the hospital visits afterward, after Trump "lashed out at his staff for keeping the cameras away from him, complaining that he wasn't receiving enough credit."

And on Thursday, reporters confirmed that some of the recovering victims — including an infant whose parents died saving him at the El Paso Walmart — were brought back after being discharged so they could be photographed with Trump, after other patients said they didn't want to meet with the president.

"Multiple staffers agreed behind the scenes that [the trip] wasn't successful from the administration's viewpoint," CNN reports. But "Trump was also unhappy with the visit. He fumed about the coverage on the long flight back to Washington, one person said." Trump "was particularly upset by excerpts from a news conference in Ohio" in which Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), while taking "a mostly respectful tone toward the president," had also said "some people at the hospital had privately said they do not support Mr. Trump," the Times reports. "Trump reacted with fury. As his plane soared toward a restive El Paso, he shouted at aides that no one was defending him." Peter Weber

June 10, 2019

What went wrong with Dark Phoenix?

That's the question on everyone's mind after the latest and likely last installment in the main X-Men franchise took in just $33 million domestically in its opening weekend, giving it the worst showing of the series and putting it on a path toward losing more than $100 million, Deadline writes. This came after the film received the worst reviews of any X-Men installment.

Numerous factors were likely at play in Dark Phoenix's box office failure, insiders who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter suggested. For one, after 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse underperformed, Fox executives reportedly chalked this up to the film having an "excessive amount of explosions and scale, the Reporter writes.

The result was a film that was intentionally smaller in scope, and one not thought of as being a summer blockbuster, an insider told the Reporter. But it was forced to compete in the summer anyway after being pushed from February to June, a decision sources told the Reporter was made because James Cameron was concerned Alita: Battle Angel would bomb in December due to heavy competition. So Fox gave Dark Phoenix's February date to Alita, moving the X-Men movie to June. The film being delayed twice gave it toxic buzz that Deadline notes the studio was unable to properly manage.

One source specifically pointed the finger at former 20th Century Fox CEO Stacey Snider, telling the Reporter that Fox's Emma Watts and others "begged her" not to delay the movie. Deadline also reports on the release date being blamed, while sources they spoke to also criticized the movie's marketing campaign.

Regardless of Dark Phoenix's performance, X-Men was already expected to be rebooted after Disney acquired the franchise in its Fox acquisition. But had this merger not happened, one former Fox executive told the Reporter, "some of these people would be worried about their jobs." Brendan Morrow

January 28, 2019

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, added to his weighty portfolio by becoming Trump's point man on negotiating an end the government shutdown. He "was confident in his ability as a good-faith negotiator who could find a compromise," maybe even a grand immigration bargain, "buoyed by his success in helping pass a criminal justice bill," The New York Times reports. But a generous epitaph after Trump temporarily reopened the government with no border wall money might be "Jared Tried."

It turned out that "negotiating a broad immigration deal that would satisfy a president committed to a border wall as well as Democrats who have cast it as immoral proved to be more like Mr. Kushner's elusive goal of solving Middle East peace than passing a criminal justice overhaul that already had bipartisan support," the Times reports. Democrats also never believed Kushner could speak for Trump or get around his immigration backstop, Stephen Miller.

Kushner consistently misread the politics, too, assuring "colleagues that public opinion would move to their side and that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would emerge as the one who looked unreasonable and intransigent," the Times says. Similarly, Kushner "inaccurately believed that moderate rank-and-file Democrats were open to a compromise and had no issue funding a wall as part of a broader deal."

Kushner's divide-and-conquer-the-Democrats plan "sounds insane" in this case, New York's Jonathan Chait writes. In fact other White House advisers called it insane, even "delusional." Not that this is over. Ultimately, "Trump was willing to table debate over wall funding because he is convinced he can win support from some Democratic lawmakers over the next three weeks," The Washington Post reports. And Kushner, the Times adds, has told Trump "he should spend the next three weeks trying to achieve a broader immigration package."

You can watch Capitol Hill reporters deliver an early postmortem on the shutdown and Kushner's efforts on MSNBC. Peter Weber

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