Local official: Trump rally likely intensified public-health crisis

Trump's recent campaign rally in Tulsa was already an embarrassing debacle. The latest word from the local health director makes it look even worse.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

By any fair metric, Donald Trump's recent campaign re-launch event in Oklahoma was a debacle. After the president boasted about how extraordinary the crowd size would be, for example, turnout proved to be embarrassing.

Trump's remarks made matters worse. The Republican had nothing to say about why he was running for a second term, and instead peddled falsehoods, racial grievances, and ill-considered "jokes." Perhaps the most notable part of the Tulsa event came when the president said he told members of his team to deliberately slow down coronavirus testing -- because the results were politically inconvenient.

But to see the campaign rally strictly through a political lens is to take too narrow a view. As the Associated Press reported yesterday, Trump's vanity exercise appears to have been a public-health disaster, too.

President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa that drew thousands of people in late June, along with large protests that accompanied it, "likely contributed" to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday. Tulsa County reported 261 confirmed new cases on Monday, a one-day record high, and another 206 cases on Tuesday.

If Dart's name sounds at all familiar, it's because, ahead of the event, he urged the president's re-election campaign not to hold the rally in an indoor venue, citing public-health risks. The local health director now seems to believe that he was right to raise concerns.

For its part, a Team Trump spokesperson replied in a written statement that “everyone [at the Tulsa event] was provided a mask, and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available for all.”

Perhaps. But what this statement didn't address was the fact that mask-wearing was optional and photographs from the rally gave every indication that most attendees had no face coverings. Complicating matters are reports that the Trump campaign took deliberate steps to discourage social distancing in Tulsa.

It's against this backdrop that the president's political operation is planning another campaign rally, scheduled for Saturday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Unlike in Oklahoma, this gathering will be outdoors.

That said, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said this week that while he doesn't believe Trump's event is too risky for the public, the governor also made clear that he will not attend.

“I will not be in the crowd of thousands of people, I’m not going to put myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people,” Sununu said. In apparent reference to the possible spread of the coronavirus, the Republican governor added, “Unfortunately, I have to be extra cautious as the governor, I try to be extra cautious for myself, my family."

The subtext seemed to be that those who do show up for Trump's event are taking a health risk that Sununu isn't prepared to take himself.

After the latest update from Tulsa, the question isn't why the governor has come to this conclusion; the question is why other New Hampshire Republicans would show up for the president's latest self-indulgent rally.