President Donald Trump suggested on Tuesday that he won’t be holding rallies since the optics of low attendance amid calls to observe social distancing guidelines — that he has largely ignored in the past — wouldn’t look very good.
“You can’t have empty seats,” Trump told Fox Sports Radio’s Clay Travis, suggesting that the sparkling optics of sporting events like college football would be lost following calls to limit attendance at large gatherings due to coronavirus concerns.
Trump seized the opportunity to suggest that guidelines for social distancing was “the reason” why he “won’t do” the campaign rallies that have been a hallmark of his political strategy. The rallies were once packed with participants but have made news in recent months for another reason — failing to attract the crowds of the past as promised by his campaign advisers.
“You have one person and everything’s empty around them. You can’t do that,” Trump said, explaining why he probably won’t be holding more rallies like the one in Tulsa in June that was embarrassingly poorly attended.
Trump last month cancelled a rally in New Hampshire, citing concerns over a tropical storm that was not anticipated to reach his campaign location in Portsmouth. Some speculated that the event’s cancellation was tied to the ridicule the President faced weeks before, after hosting a widely criticized Tulsa rally in June that boasted more than 1 million registrations, according to then-campaign manager Brad Parscale, but ultimately only filled about one-third of the arena’s 19,000 seats.
Following the scant attendance at his first in-person rally in months in Oklahoma, Trump unofficially took part in what looked a lot like a campaign event that was slated as an official White House trip in June, delivering a speech at an event hosted by Students for Trump at a Phoenix megachurch.
Under the guise of official presidential business, Trump has also traveled to battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, using those visits to boost his campaign prospects and blur the lines between his commitments as President and his motives as a candidate desperate to shore up support from his base amid unfavorable poll numbers.
While Trump has teased Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who recently announced that he would not travel to Milwaukee to deliver his acceptance speech and has launched a largely virtual campaign strategy, Trump has leveraged official presidential events as a platform for his campaign, even playing campaign-style videos in the White House briefing room.
Trump has long pushed the importance of outsized optics for his re-election, even suggesting recently that he would “probably” deliver his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination from White House grounds, a suggestion that was criticized by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike. On Monday, he said that either the White House or the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania would form the backdrop to his acceptance speech.