President Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. | AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump wasn’t the only one thrown off course by a lower-than-expected turnout at his comeback rally in Tulsa.
Republican officials and Trump campaign aides, some of whom have been working since last year to plan the party’s convention festivities, said the disappointing event last weekend imparted a critical lesson as they look ahead to Jacksonville, where Trump will deliver his acceptance speech as the GOP’s presidential nominee in late August: Learn to manage expectations and plan for trouble.
“The last thing we want to do is over-promise and under-deliver,” said an adviser to the Trump campaign. “Obviously we wish Tulsa had not turned out the way it did, but it was a useful reminder of what we hope to avoid next time.”
The debacle that unfolded in Oklahoma, where sparse crowds forced Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to cancel pre-rally appearances and ignited an unpleasant news cycle for Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, has raised the stakes for the Jacksonville convention, where hundreds of Republican delegates, party leaders and MAGA devotees will send Trump off to battle against his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
The Trump campaign official said the president’s frustration with the crowd size erased any positive feelings he might have had about simply being back in front of a crowd after a three-month hiatus from the campaign trail.
“It would be a huge blow to morale if something goes wrong and we get blamed again, but I don’t think that’s going to happen because we aren’t the ones in charge here,” the official said, noting that the campaign’s primary role is to select the lineup of speakers at the convention, which will run from Aug. 24-27.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has described the planning for Jacksonville as “a massive undertaking” since the party spent three years operating under the impression that its 2020 convention would occur in Charlotte — not six hours south in a different state. A person involved with the host committee said the team has been meeting multiple times a week — sometimes up to 12 hours a day – and is on track to ensure the convention is “a healthy, safe and exciting event.”
The convention is set to take place just one month before Trump and Biden will square off in the first of three general election debates, and it comes as the president currently struggles to revamp his 2020 message and recover lost ground in swing-state polls.
In Florida, Biden holds a 6.2 percentage-point lead over the president, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average — up four points from the lead former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton held at this point in 2016 before she lost the state to Trump in November.
Both candidates are expected to use their party’s nominating conventions as launchpads for the general election contest, which has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest caused by the police-involved death of George Floyd.
For Trump in particular, aides hope the convention will provide a much-needed boost after one of the most difficult stretches of his presidency.
“This will be a turning point for the president’s campaign and the start of an aggressive schedule just like you saw in 2016,” said the Trump campaign adviser.
The president hopes to be on the road at least four days a week beginning in late August, this person said, even though his team is still deciding whether each stop will involve a large-scale rally.