Coronavirus News Asia

Empty seats greet Trump at campaign rally

In front of crowds far smaller than promised, US President Donald Trump returned Saturday to one of his favorite spots – a campaign rally stage – defying the pandemic and attacking Democratic rivals.

Gathering his political faithful for a much-hyped rally in Oklahoma, his first in three months, the Republican president sought to reinvigorate his flagging campaign in the face of a crushing health and economic crisis as well as protests against racial injustice that have swept the nation in recent weeks.

Trump all but claimed victory over the pandemic that has killed some 120,000 Americans – “I have done a phenomenal job with it!” he insisted – even as six members of his own Tulsa advance team tested positive for Covid-19.

The event – which the White House promised would be flooded with up to 100,000 people, but actually did not even fill the 19,000-seat arena where Trump spoke – has emerged as a flashpoint in the pandemic era. 

In the hours before the event, crowds were significantly lighter than expected, and campaign officials scrapped plans for Trump to first address an overflow space outdoors. About a third of the seats at his indoor rally were empty.

Trump tried to explain away the crowd size by blaming the media for declaring “don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything” and by insisting there were protesters outside who were “doing bad things.”

But Trump was more interested in reviving his political fortunes after several bruising weeks that saw continued economic woes tied to the pandemic, nationwide protests over racial injustice, the toppling of Confederate and other statues and critics including former aides savaging his performance.

“The silent majority is stronger than ever before,” Trump said in a rowdy, freewheeling speech in which he blasted his 2020 election rival, Democrat Joe Biden, as a “helpless puppet of the radical left”.

“Five months from now we’re going to defeat ‘sleepy’ Joe Biden,” he said.

Many rally-goers wore red “Make America Great Again” hats or T-shirts, but very few wore masks and there was little social distancing, even though coronavirus cases have recently been skyrocketing in Oklahoma.

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