When the 2020 election got underway, forecasters probably didn't expect to see Donald Trump campaigning in Nebraska in the cycle's final days. And yet, there was the incumbent Republican president, holding a rally in Omaha last night, with just a week remaining before Election Day.
The problem for the GOP is not that Nebraska is a competitive 2020 battleground, at least not on a statewide basis. The relevant detail, however, is that Nebraska is one of only two states to divide its electoral votes by congressional district, and the state's 2nd district is vastly more competitive than the rest of the state. Barack Obama picked up this electoral vote in 2008, and it's apparently competitive this year, too.
It was against this backdrop that Trump told a supportive crowd last night, "In theory, I didn't really have to be here." That may have made the president feel better, but it's foolish to think an incumbent, behind in the polls, would travel to eastern Nebraska in late October if he "didn't really have to" be there.
As it turns out, however, what was far more interesting than the Republican's speech is what transpired after the rally. NBC News reported this morning:
Hundreds of Trump supporters were left in the freezing cold for hours after a rally at an airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday night, with some walking around three miles to waiting buses and others being taken away in ambulances. Many of those at the rally at the Eppley Airfield faced hours in long lines to get in and clogged parking lots and busy crowds to get out, hours after his Air Force One departed around 9 p.m. Crowds cleared about 12:30 a.m.
The report added that many Trump supporters required medical attention. By some accounts, several were hospitalized.
As for the logistics of what transpired, a Washington Post report added, "[A]s long lines of MAGA-clad attendees queued up for buses to take them to distant parking lots, it quickly became clear that something was wrong. The buses, the huge crowd soon learned, couldn't navigate the jammed airport roads. For hours, attendees — including many elderly Trump supporters — stood in the cold, as police scrambled to help those most at-risk get to warmth."
From the stage last night, the president said, "Is there any place you would rather be than a Trump rally on about a 10-degree evening? ... It's cold out here but that's okay."
For some, it apparently was not okay.
Complicating matters, of course, was the fact that the event was itself a hazard for reasons that had nothing to do with the weather or inaccessible buses: Nebraska is struggling with rising coronavirus cases, fatalities, and hospitalizations. Bringing thousands of locals together -- no social distancing, few wearing masks -- was clearly unwise.
But that was before those same rally attendees stood outside after the event, miles from their vehicles, wondering what to do. CNN's Jeff Zeleny, covering the event, noted on Twitter, "President Trump took off in Air Force One 1 hr 20 minutes ago, but thousands of his supporters remain stranded on a dark road outside the rally." He added that he saw a local police officer shake his head in response to the "chaotic cluster."
I can appreciate a good metaphor as much as the next political writer, but this is a little on the nose. Donald Trump literally left his supporters out in the cold and in the dark?