The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

5 takeaways from Trump’s Tulsa rally

Placeholder while article actions load

President Trump held his first campaign rally in three months Saturday. Here are the takeaways from it.

President Trump held his first campaign rally since March on June 20 in Tulsa, covering a wide range of topics from covid-19 to civil unrest and more. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

1. Trump elevates violent rhetoric against protesters

A day before the rally, he tweeted this:

The White House tried to say Trump was making threats only about violent protesters, but the tweet clearly includes “protesters.”

As the rally was getting started and it was clear the campaign’s expected crowd size fell short by thousands, the campaign sent out a statement blaming, in part, a few hundred protesters outside the convention center for blocking or intimidating rallygoers from coming in. (Reporters on the ground before the rally said they saw no indication that was the case.)

At the rally, Trump threatened protesters again, this time with his own supporters: “We had a bunch of maniacs come and sort of attack our city,” Trump said of what had been nonviolent protests outside his rally. “The mayor and the governor did a great job, but they were very violent people. And our people are not nearly as violent. But if they ever were, it would be a terrible, terrible day for the other side, because I know our people,” he said to cheers. “I know our people. We will never submit to their threats, and we will never let them destroy our nation.”

At the end of the rally he threw this in: “When you see those lunatics all over the streets, it’s damn nice to have arms.”

Trump has demonstrated little patience with those who protest his policies and, most recently, with Black Lives Matter protesters. When the two causes converged at his campaign rally, which was held in the city that had one of the nation’s worst racial massacres in the 20th century and in the middle of a nationwide reckoning on race, Trump made a point to scapegoat them.

2. ‘Kung flu,’ a testing slowdown and other flippant comments about the coronavirus

At his June 20 Tulsa campaign rally, President Trump advocated for slowing coronavirus testing out of concern that more testing might reveal more cases. (Video: The Washington Post)

Trump’s decision to hold a rally in a state where coronavirus cases are rising, ignoring local health officials who asked him to postpone, already demonstrated his lack of concern for spreading the virus.

But his comments Saturday underscored that Trump sees political strength in downplaying the virus’s threat — and using language one of his own advisers described as offensive to describe it.

“I said to my people, slow down the testing,” Trump said, connecting increased testing to a rise in cases — though in states with rising cases, such as Arizona and Texas, hospitalizations are also increasing. (A White House official told The Washington Post that Trump was joking.)

He recalled hearing of a child who was infected with the coronavirus and brushing it off as a 10-year-old “with sniffles.” He said, to cheers, that he shook U.S. Military Academy cadets’ hands.

He also described the coronavirus, which emanated from China, as “kung flu” — one of “19 or 20 names” for the virus, he said.

When White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was asked in March about reports that someone in the White House used that term to a reporter, here’s how she responded: “That’s highly offensive. So, you should tell us all who it is. I’d like to know who it is.”

Trump has spent weeks launching a culture war against wearing masks. (Masks were certainly not prevalent among rally attendees, even though the Trump campaign handed them out.) It seems as if he wants to launch one against the very existence of the virus that has killed 120,000 Americans.

3. No attempt to salve racial tensions

Trump had delayed the rally in Tulsa after uproar over its originally scheduled date of Friday, which was Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves. He rescheduled, but in the backdrop remained the past few weeks of a national reckoning on racial injustice.

Trump focused on protesters taking down statues of the Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and bashed those who “want to demolish our heritage.”

He made no mention of Black Lives Matter or police brutality, and said how he’ll defend law enforcement. He brought up Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), American citizens who he tweeted in the past year should “go home.”

Using racially inflammatory and offensive language is nothing new for Trump. But the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing have broad approval, including among a majority of Republicans, according to a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll.

4. Explaining 'the ramp and the water’

At his first campaign rally in months, President Trump told the Tulsa crowd on June 20 that there was more to the story of his West Point commencement speech. (Video: The Washington Post)

At Trump’s commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy a week ago, he used two hands to raise his water glass to his mouth then walked very cautiously down a ramp to get off the stage.

Ever sensitive to media coverage, Trump gave a lengthy explanation of the incident. He had been tired after spending all day in the sun and saluting hundreds of graduating cadets. After his speech was done, he said he found he had to walk down a ramp with leather-soled shoes. “General, I’ve got myself a problem,” Trump recalled saying to the general guiding him where to go. “General, because I’m wearing leather bottom shoes, which is good if you’re walking on flat surfaces. It’s not good for ramps. And if I fall down, look at all those press back here.”

On the glass of water, he indicated his arms were tired from saluting cadets, which he compared to lifting weights, and said he didn’t want to risk getting water on his red tie: “I just saluted. Six hundred times like this.”

He then drank water at his lectern in Tulsa, with one hand, and the crowd cheered.

5. Weaving old with the new for a 2020 campaign pitch

Much of Trump’s reelection pitch is the same as when he was trying to get into the White House: describing violence by the MS-13 gang, opposing abortion, casting Washington as out of touch and promising economic prosperity to America’s central regions and an even more conservative Supreme Court.

There are some notable updates, now that he knows his opponent will be former vice president Joe Biden. He spent considerable time attacking Biden, including on:

  • Biden’s health: “There’s something wrong with Biden,” Trump said, wrapping up his water and ramp explanation by pointing back to him.
  • Biden’s lack of campaigning in crowds during the pandemic: “Biden remains silent in his basement in the face of this brutal assault on our nation and the values of our nation.”
  • Biden’s record on China, a subject on which the Trump campaign put together a hugely misleading ad in April: “Biden is a puppet for China.”
  • Attempting to recast the Democratic Party as being led by politicians more liberal than Biden: “Joe Biden is not the leader of his party. Joe Biden is a helpless puppet of the radical left.”