Trump had hailed this rally as something more than a return to the campaign trail. His insistence on speaking to a packed, indoor arena full of cheering, maskless supporters—19,000 expected inside, tens of thousands more in an outdoor overflow area—in defiance of public-health experts, in spite of a spike in coronavirus cases in Tulsa itself, was supposed to be a signal to the country that American life was getting back to normal, pandemic be damned.
And yet the arena the president addressed Saturday wasn’t packed. Thousands of seats were empty. Trump didn’t speak to the overflow crowd outside, because there was no overflow.
The size of a crowd at any campaign event should be relatively unimportant, especially in a state like Oklahoma that Trump is expected to win easily in November. Except crowd size is of utmost importance to the president, who began his tenure fighting with the media about how many people did, or did not, stand on the National Mall to watch his inauguration. This event was a test of the public’s willingness to follow the president’s lead and to flout the advice of health officials who warned that a crowded indoor rally—where masks were handed out but wearing them was not mandatory—was exactly the type of event most likely to spread the coronavirus.