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Tulsa takeaways: undersized crowd, absurdly long excuses about West Point videos …

Will Trump’s absurdly long West Point tales about the ramp walk and water drinking really energize anyone?

President Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.
President Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

I don’t claim to know what kind of “message” from Donald Trump might energize his base to rally round for the 2020 election and recruit new members to his fan club, but if the crazy show he put on Saturday night in Tulsa helps him with his base or with swing voters, I’ll be shocked.

Of course the whole Trump phenomenon has been full of surprises, to me at least. And I am not a member of the target audience for his bizarre almost-two-hour love-fest with himself and his undersized crowd. But I did watch it and will pass along a few reactions and a bit of a recap.

Empty seats

First, recap: The live turnout was way below Trumpian expectations. He was prepared to fill the arena and pipe the feed to thousands more outside, who Trump expected would be unable to fit into the arena. In fact, there was no overflow and many empty seats in the upper deck of the arena. COVID-19? Trump losing his grip on his former multitude? I don’t claim to know.

Those who attended seemed to like the show.

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Trump decided to devote an absurdly huge portion of his time on stage to explaining away two bits of embarrassing video that his detractors were obsessed with, one showing him seeming to struggle to shuffle down a ramp while being assisted by a general, and one showing him needing two shaky hands to get a sip of water up to his mouth.

Personally, while I saw video of both of those small embarrassments, I attached no importance to them and made no mention of them in my scribbling. But some media outlets, I gather, suggested that they were signs of physical frailty, perhaps signs of Parkinson’s disease. 

Our macho septuagenarian commander in chief wanted — beyond wanted, apparently felt an alarming or pitiful need — to refute any rumors of physical frailty. So he devoted many, many minutes, I kid you not, more than 12 minutes of his rally speech, to explaining away the bad video of him struggling to get down the ramp and drink the water.

If you can stand it, I’ll briefly tell you what he said, but I must repeat that I had previously attached no importance to the video and could not believe how much of his rally Trump devoted to this matter. I would call it the single matter on which he devoted the most time during his often rambling remarks. 

Too much COVID testing

True, he mentioned COVID 11 times, but mostly to complain about how little credit he is getting for the “phenomenal job” he has done with it, and to complain that he wished they would stop doing so much testing, because that makes him look bad when they find more COVID cases. 

He found 41 occasions to mention the name “Biden” during his remarks, not all of the references completely flattering. Just 12 references to China, including one in which he said “Biden is a puppet for China.”

But there was no topic to which he devoted more time than to clear up the matter of why he needed to use two hands to drink that water, and why he looked so unsteady going down that ramp. Here’s his “explanation”:

According to Trump, on that fabled day that he attended the West Point graduation, he was wearing shoes with slippery leather bottoms. Very slippery. So slippery that he was afraid of falling. So he proceeded very carefully. 

Also, he was wearing a silk tie, which he feared might be ruined if he spilled water on it. So he used both hands and extra caution while drinking. 

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Now you know.

Twelve minutes. 

Perhaps more harm than good

He justified the long tale of excuse-making for why he used two hands to drink the water and why he needed help getting down the ramp by saying the “fake media” will use any excuse to make Mr. Macho Trump look weak, or ill, or silly. But if his goal was to redeem his dignity or his manhood, 12 minutes explaining this may have done more harm than good.

He did not mention George Floyd’s name during his hourlong discussion of things that matter, nor the names of Ahmaud Arbery., Rayshard Brooks nor Tony McDade, and, although he did discuss the protests that have roiled the nation, he expressed no regret for anything he has said or done  or failed to say or do, that might have been helpful.

But 12 minutes on how unfairly he had been treated by the “fake media” for his walk down the airplane ramp, and for needing two hands to take a sip of water. 

The rest of his big rally was typical Trump, self-glorifying, of little substance and full of questionable factual assertions. And, as I already mentioned, the main thing that was different from most Trump rallies was that he failed to fill the room.

Oh, and he continues to suggest that the country would feel a lot better about the pandemic if people stopped getting tested for the COVID virus, because – and this is unarguably true – the more tests, the  bigger the number of confirmed cases, the more people worry about it.

If you’d like to watch Trump’s Tulsa speech, this link will get you a video via the Tulsa World. If you decide to watch, you should skip ahead 34 minutes to where Trump makes his entrance.