WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is "furious" at the "underwhelming" crowd at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday evening, a major disappointment for what had been expected to be a raucous return to the campaign trail after three months off because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple people close to the White House.
The president was fuming at his top political aides Saturday even before the rally began after his campaign revealed that six members of the advance team on the ground in Tulsa had tested positive for COVID-19, including Secret Service personnel, a person familiar with the discussions said.
Trump asked those around him why the information was exposed and expressed annoyance that the coverage ahead of his mega-rally was dominated by the revelation.
While the Trump re-election effort boasted that it would fill BOK Center, which seats more than 19,000 people, only 6,200 supporters ultimately occupied the general admission sections, the Tulsa fire marshal told NBC News.
The campaign was so confident about a high turnout that it set up an overflow area, which it had expected to attract thousands. But the plan was scrapped at the last minute when only dozens gathered at the time the vice president and the president were set to address the crowd inside.
"It's politics 101: You under-promise and overdeliver," a Trump ally said, conceding the missteps the Trump 2020 team took in the lead-up to the event by saying nearly 1 million people had responded to requests for admission.
Much of the blame is falling on campaign manager Brad Parscale, who in the days leading up the event aggressively touted the number of registrations, but those close to him stress that his job is safe, for now.
Last month, after dismal polling revealed that the president is trailing the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, in key battleground states that Trump won in 2016, Parscale was reprimanded and a deputy was brought in to help steer the ship.
There are growing concerns among Trump campaign officials that neither the president nor the 2020 team have a coherent message for why he should serve a second term. Saturday evening's meandering, nearly two-hour rally speech is the latest evidence of a lack of a targeted strategy to attack Biden with less than five months to go until the general election.
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Many issues could have contributed to the poor attendance in Tulsa: a fear of contracting the virus, concern over potential protests and torrential thunderstorms in 95-degree heat. But outside advisers see the visuals of empty seats overshadowing Trump's remarks as a significant problem for a president and a campaign that are obsessed with optics.
"This was a major failure," one outside adviser said.