It’s too early to conclude that Trump has lost his magic

This was originally published as the June 22 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

Donald Trump’s face was as red as his “Make America Great Again” hat.

The President’s reelection campaign had high hopes for this weekend. It boasted that a million people requested tickets to Trump’s rally on Saturday night, and even made plans to accommodate an overflow crowd of 40,000 outside the arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But his big return to the campaign trail turned into an embarrassment — only 6,200 people (about one-third the venue’s capacity) showed up, said the local fire department.

Trump’s aides tried to cover his blushes by blaming protesters for scaring supporters away. But rows of empty seats and a deserted area in front of the planned overflow stage told their own story. Could it have been fear of the coronavirus? Waning enthusiasm for the President himself? Whatever the reason, Trump built his own boobytrap by boasting about the expected crowds, in hopes of portraying wild heartland support despite his gruesome run of crises and controversies.

Critics spent Sunday gloating about his humiliation, but it’s too early to conclude that Trump has lost his magic — crowd sizes are an unscientific way to judge the state of a campaign. There was also little to learn from the rally itself, which contained Trump’s usual mix of grievances, lies, bizarre diversions and casual racism. The biggest cheer came when he showed he could drink water from a glass using one hand — a feat of no small significance after previous two-fisted attempts to hydrate raised questions about his health.

Trump is reportedly furious about the turnout. As always happens when something goes wrong, word has emerged that his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner aren’t happy either. So with Trump trailing Democrat Joe Biden badly in the polls, campaign manager Brad Parscale might want to watch his back.

Meanwhile producer Shelby Rose spent part of her Sunday counting every single word Trump dedicated during his Tulsa speech to defending how he walked and drank water during a prior visit to West Point (1,826) — compared to how many words he spent addressing the coronavirus pandemic (859).

‘Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap’

Many of those who asked for tickets to Trump’s rally may have been trolling the President, in a stunt organized mainly through TikTok. The social media platform is normally thought of as a place for dancing teenagers, but CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan reports that a coordinated effort on TikTok encouraged people to register online for the rally and not show up.

On Sunday, Parscale responded: “Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” he told CNN, adding that “registering for a rally means you’ve RSVPed with a cell phone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool. These phony ticket requests never factor into our thinking.”

But if it’s not the fake RSVPs, Meanwhile would like to know what did factor into the miscalculation that anticipated tens of thousands of attendees and got 6,200.

Blind justice

Investigate the President, and odds are good you’ll be fired.

In his latest blow to the independence of America’s judiciary, Trump this weekend dismissed one of the country’s top prosecutors, Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Among many high profile investigations — including the alleged sex trafficking ring once run by Jeffrey Epstein — Berman’s office was probing the business ties of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, and had indicted a state-owned bank in Turkey — a case in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked Trump to intervene.

Berman joins a long list of those who have paid with their jobs for looking too closely into the President’s conduct. Former FBI Director James Comey was one of the first to go, in the middle of the Russia investigation. Comey’s former deputy Andrew McCabe was hounded out of office too. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who angered Trump by recusing himself from the Russia investigation — also had to go. He was eventually replaced by William Barr, who has emerged more as Trump’s enforcer than as a guarantor of impartial justice.

Trump has also gutted the ranks of the government’s watchdogs, known as inspectors general, who investigate corruption and malfeasance in Washington. After the Senate acquitted Trump in his impeachment trial last year, Trump is demonstrating that he is all but unrestrainable — and could become utterly unfettered if he wins a second term.

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