Donald Trump boasted of his administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis at his Tulsa rally on Saturday, but one comment quickly stood out amid concerns of holding such a large-scale event during the ongoing pandemic.
The president told the crowd, “You know testing is a double-edged sword. We have tested now 25 million people. It is probably 20 million people more than anybody else….Here’s the bad part. When you test to that extent, you are going to find more people, find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down please.’ They test and they test.”
The crowd laughed. A White House official later suggested to reporters that the comment was a joke. Journalists, though, seized on the comment, as it was in line with others that Trump has said. He told The Wall Street Journal this week that more coronavirus tests drive up the number of cases. “In many ways, it makes us look bad,” he said.
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After the testing comment to the rally crowd, Trump then went on a riff about the way that coronavirus cases are classified, imitating a doctor. “We got another one over here. The young man is 10 years old. He will recover in about 15 minutes. That’s a case. That’s a case.”
Trump also referred to the coronavirus as the “kung flu,” as he was talking about the different ways that people have referred to the coronavirus.
“It is a disease, without question, that has more names than any disease in history. I can name kung flu, I can name 19 different versions of names,” he said.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said in March that the use of the term to refer to the coronavirus was “highly offensive.” CBS News’ Weijia Jiang had tweeted that an unnamed White House official had used the term with her.
Trump’s riffs on the coronavirus crisis were in keeping with the defiant nature of the rally, held in the 19,199-seat BOK Center despite some health experts warnings of the wisdom of holding such a large indoor event during the pandemic. Attendees were subjected to temperature checks, but many did not wear available masks.
Despite advance expectations that the event would draw tens of thousands, coverage focused on the rows and rows of empty seats in the upper deck of the venue, and the fact that plans for another speech to an overflow crowd outdoors were canceled. The campaign touted the fact that 1 million people requested tickets, even though the venue obviously could not fill that many. Instead, the arena looked about half full.
Fox News carried the speech live in its entirety, but CNN and MSNBC did not and instead covered it with a mix of clips and commentary.
Clocking in at one hour, 41 minutes, Trump did meet expectations, in that he gave the kind of performance he did at pre-pandemic rallies, which is to say veering wildly from one topic to another. Much of his speech was devoted to his theme of law and order amid protests to the death of George Floyd, as he tagged the Democrats as the party of a “radical” left that was triggering chaos in cities and tearing down statues of figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Columbus.
“They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new oppressive regime in its place,” Trump said. “They want to defund and dissolve our police departments. Think of that. When I heard it for the first time two weeks ago, I said they are only kidding. They are nuts.” Demonstrators also have been toppling statues of Confederate figures.
Trump suggested that there should be a one-year prison sentence for burning the American flag, although the Supreme Court has ruled that such demonstrations are protected by the First Amendment.
“We talk about freedom of speech, but that’s desecration,” he said.
Trump went on an extended riff over the media coverage of his speech at West Point last weekend, when he was shown walking slowly down a ramp with Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams by his side. At another instance, as he was delivering his speech to the West Point graduates, he grabbed a glass of water with one hand but had to steady it with the other. The clip of that moment that triggered speculation about his motor coordination.
Trump explained to the rally crowd that he did not want to spill water on his tie, and that he didn’t want to risk slipping on the ramp and having that the focus of coverage. At one point, Trump went full on schtick and reenacted his walk.
Then, after complaining the news coverage of the West Point speech sas “unfair,” Trump drank a glass of water with one hand. The rally crowd cheered, and then began to chant, “Four more years!” He then threw the glass.
Trump reserved scathing criticism of his 2020 rival, Joe Biden, for later in the speech, as he tried to characterize the former Vice President as “a helpless puppet of the radical left.”
“In Joe Biden’s America, rioters, looters and criminal aliens have more rights than law abiding citizens,” Trump said.
He said that if Biden were elected, the left would launch a “full-scale assault on American life.”
At points, it appeared that Trump was trying out different types of attacks on Biden, tagging him as out of touch and even sympathetic to past southern segregationists.
Trump attacked Biden for delivering “fawning eulogies … of three leading supporters of segregation.” “I have done more for the Black community than Joe Biden has done in 47 years,” Trump claimed.
Trump announced near the end of the speech that he was directing his secretary of the interior to place the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park on the African American Civil Rights Network.
Andrew Bates, director of rapid response for Biden, wrote on Twitter about the rally, “His ‘reset’ attempt hinged on his supporters endangering themselves during the outbreak, and it flopped. Instead he just proved, yet again, that he has no message and cannot unify our country. Then he admitted he had coronavirus testing slowed down.”
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