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The Memo: Trump's risky Tulsa rally

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE is about to make a high-risk return to the campaign trail.

Trump will hold a massive rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, at a time when coronavirus infections there are rising steeply.

Any upsurge in cases that could be linked to the event, set to take place at a 19,200-capacity indoor arena, would be a political nightmare for a president facing a tough reelection battle.

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Trump has already come under criticism for his initial response to the crisis. And roughly 20 states are seeing their COVID-19 caseloads increase, including three election battlegrounds: Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

But Trump is gambling that nothing will go wrong and that his rally will be taken as a sign the nation is on the path back to normalcy.

Public health officials say they don’t care about the politics — but they are alarmed by the president’s willingness to roll the dice.

“Frankly, I’m terrified,” Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown Law professor who specializes in public health, told The Hill. “I literally can’t think of a more dangerous scenario for the spread of the coronavirus than a crowded indoor rally.”

Such an event, Gostin added, “has every single element of risk — people close together, in a contained indoor space, and also with a lot of shouting and yelling, which projects the virus.”

Experts in Oklahoma have added their voices to the chorus of concern.

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“It’s a perfect storm that we can’t afford to have,” Bruce Dart, the executive director of the Tulsa health department, told The New York Times on Tuesday.

The Times noted that Tulsa County had its highest number of new cases on Monday since the coronavirus crisis began and that hospitalizations with COVID-19 have “almost doubled” in a one-week period.

The Trump campaign is pushing back on accusations of recklessness, noting several measures that have been put in place.

“The campaign takes the health and safety of rally-goers seriously and is taking precautions to make the rally safe,” Erin Perrine, deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, said in an email. “Every single rally goer will have their temperature checked, be provided a face mask and hand sanitizer.”

Trump claimed on Twitter on Monday that almost 1 million people have requested tickets for the rally. Trump received about 949,000 votes in Oklahoma in the 2016 presidential election.

Vice President Pence on Tuesday said during an interview with “Fox & Friends” that the campaign was considering “another venue” or “outside activities” in Tulsa.

It was not clear whether Pence was suggesting moving the entire event outdoors or if he was referring to arrangements for any overflow crowd.

Moving the whole event outside could be one way for the campaign to blunt health concerns, as most evidence now suggests indoor spaces are more dangerous for the spread of the virus.

If it remains indoors, health experts say the measures announced by the Trump campaign may not be enough.

Those moves, according to Kavita Patel, a health expert with the Brookings Institution, amount to “a good start.” But, she added, “I would want to see very concrete precautions, including a mandatory mask.”

Patel said the bottom line was that having a huge crowd congregating indoors was imprudent, irrespective of the specific nature of the event.

“Regardless of who is holding the rally, it is not a good idea to put people inside a closed space,” she said.

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Pro-Trump voices are frustrated with what they consider to be unfair media coverage of the event, however. They draw comparisons with the media’s treatment of the huge street protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

“It is absolutely absurd for the mainstream media to even try to lob these criticisms against the campaign, after the last three weeks of them literally cheering on the rallies and protests that have had zero social distancing and zero testing requirements,” said Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former Trump White House official.

Surabian contended that the disparity in coverage was so striking that voters would dismiss the criticisms of Trump’s move.

“If you are going to be critical, at least admit that you are being hypocritical, because that’s all it is,” he said, referring to the media coverage. “Just because the media agrees with the political goals of the protesters and disagrees with the political goals of the people rallying for Donald Trump, they are going to say one rally is acceptable and the other rally is not, but the American people have eyes and know they’re full of it.”

Whether that proves true or not, the broader danger for Trump lies in a widespread resurgence of the virus.

If that can be avoided, his Tulsa rally may come to be seen as a winning political bet. But if things go bad, footage of the president before a huge indoor crowd could pack a powerful and damning punch.

 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.