Donald Trump in Tusla

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On Wednesday, I attended the Tulsa rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump with former Alaska Gov. and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, held at ORU's Mabee Center. I was there as a member of the news media; I received an email at 7 pm the night before the event saying that I was credentialed to attend.

Obviously, this isn't a breaking news report (five days later). You've read the stories and seen the clips, but I hope to tell you about things you missed by not being there.

After waiting in line for over 30 minutes in a cold lobby (during which I got to visit with Matthew Vermillion of Forty-Six News), we received our misprinted media badges ("Tusla" instead of "Tulsa"), got wanded by the Secret Service, and were finally allowed inside the arena.

Trump later tweeted a claim that 15,000 were in attendance and another 5,000 turned away. As the official Mabee Center seating charts indicate, the arena holds 8,400 in the stands in the expanded end arena configuration that was in use. There were no seats on the floor -- the back 1/4th was devoted to media, the other end was occupied by the stage, leaving the middle half for standees. A wedge of seats behind the stage was blocked off with curtains.

I was standing on the front rail of the media area, just to the right of the camera stand. At noon, the official starting time of the event, the standing area was perhaps 2/3 full; the lower bowl of the arena was 90% full, and the upper seating was perhaps half full. People continued to trickle in over the next hour, while we waited for the event to begin, with more upper level seats filling in and more standees, but there was still a significant amount of empty space at the back of the standee area. Based on that, I would have guessed about 8,000 in attendance. The Tulsa Fire Department said that 8,937 people were allowed into the building.

According to Tulsa Fire Department, which assisted in crowd control, 8,937 people were allotted seating. Event doors were closed once the crowd reached that number.

A fire official says additional supporters were not allowed inside the event to ensure safety.

(Why is the fire department interested in the size of a crowd? A public gathering place has to have adequate exit routes to evacuate everyone in the building safely within a certain window of time. Even if there were the space to squeeze more people in, the fire marshal would shut the doors to new arrivals once the facility's maximum permitted occupancy had been reached.)

I was in the building from 10:00 on, so I can't speak to how many were turned away, but people kept coming in right up until Trump was introduced at 1:07, and there were still empty seats and space available in the standee area. People might have been turned away because they couldn't be screened quickly enough, or perhaps because some emergency exits had to be closed for security reasons, requiring a lower fire-safety limit than the normal capacity.

It's hard to generalize about the people in attendance. A wide range of ages were represented (although many of the younger people I noticed in the standee area turned out to be protesters, holding up a banner reading "Trump makes America hate again"). Most appeared to be normal Oklahomans, with only a handful seeming to be fanatics. One young bearded man, stationed in the back of the standees, frequently shouted things like, "We love you, Sarah," as he waved his rally signs. He seemed to determined to attract attention. One lady in the press area had a dress papered over with pictures of Trump. Another standee was sporting a "Putin/Nugent 2016" t-shirt. The people I saw certainly didn't fit political consultant Rick Wilson's lurid characterization of Trump supporters.

Two things stood out to me about the crowd: It was almost all Caucasian (maybe one person out of 200 was not), and very few were people were GOP activists. I spotted four folks in the crowd that I knew from 25 years of local Republican Party involvement -- two activists who were big supporters of former Congressman John Sullivan, a consultant from Jim Bridenstine's first congressional campaign, and Dan Keating, brother of the former governor and Trump's state chairman.

While people filed in, we listened to loud bluegrass covers of U2 hits like "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." At 11:45 Keating kicked things off with a few remarks. Word-Faith televangelist Cathy Mink of Len Mink Ministries gave the invocation. Before she got around to praying, Mrs. Mink called Trump "a David raised up to defeat Goliath" (Vera Coking would have begged to differ) and a "friend of Israel and a defender of Christians." She exclaimed, "Just think -- we will be able to shout Merry Christmas everywhere once he gets to the Oval Office." (What's keeping her from doing that now?) She concluded by claiming the "Prayer of Jabez" on Trump's behalf. The brief prayer for expanded influence and blessing, recorded in the midst of genealogies in 1st Chronicles 4:10, was a publishing sensation around the turn of the Millennium.

A group of three men (unidentified) led the Pledge of Allegiance. A young blonde woman sang the National Anthem in the Whitney Houston standard melismatic fashion, with some in the crowd singing along quietly). And then, as Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" began to play, this voice came over the sound system:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that as President of the United States, Mr. Trump will continue his lifelong defense of the right to free speech in America. As a matter of fact, he supports the First Amendment just as much as he supports the Second Amendment. [Wild cheers.] However some people have taken advantge of Mr. Trump's hospitality by choosing to disturb his rallies by using them as an opportunity to promote their own political messages. [Boos.] While they certainly have the right to free speech, this is a private event paid for by Mr. Trump. We have provided a safe protest area outside the venue for all protesters.

"If a protester starts demonstrating in the area around you, please do not touch or harm the protester. This is a peaceful rally. In order to notify the law enforcement officers of the location of the protester, please hold a rally sign above your head and start chanting "Trump! Trump! Trump!" [Chanting.] Ask the people around you to do likewise until officers remove the protestors. Thank you for helping us to make America great again! [Wild cheers.]"

It was now about 11:50. And then we waited for 77 minutes, listening to an eclectic playlist, blasted at high volume that began with Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," followed by "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, the aria "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot (sounded like the Harry Secombe version), Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," Adele's "Skyfall."

Did the campaign pick "Music of the Night," or was it an ORU student or staffer making subtle commentary?

Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before
Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar
And you'll live as you've never lived before

Softly, deftly, music shall surround you
feel it, hear it, closing in around you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night

At about 12:15, an aide came out to the podium, adjusting the microphone and checking for water bottles, giving some hope that things would be underway soon. As if taunting the audience, the sound man played the Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want." (More commentary?) That was followed by "Memory" (from Cats), "Hey Jude," "Rocket Man," and then back through the rotation again. As we passed an hour after the scheduled start, many on the north side (nearer the public entrance) were standing in anticipation while those on the south side stayed seated.

When the sound man cut short "Rocket Man," the crowd cheered in anticipation, "Eye of the Tiger" started up, and the PA announced, "The next President of the United States, Donald! J! Trump!" Trump spoke briefly, introduced Palin, who spoke for about 20 minutes, and then Trump returned to the stage, speaking for about 35 minutes.

About halfway through Trump's speech, people started leaving the arena, a few here and there, and then a steady stream -- maybe students who had a class at 2:00 pm, maybe audience members whose curiosity to see Trump in person was sated and who were ready to move on with their day after investing three or four hours in this event.

I won't recap everything that Trump and Palin said -- there are plenty of sources for that information -- but I'll hit a couple of highlights.

Palin repeatedly referred to Trump as a commander: "Are you ready for a commander who will allow us to make America great?"

The strangest thing that came out of Palin's mouth was her implication that her son's Track's wartime experience -- and the failure of the Obama administration to properly appreciate the troops -- was to blame for his recent arrest on domestic violence charges. That didn't get much reaction.

She got the crowd going again with talk of the "complicity of both sides of the aisle" -- pushed by the donor class -- in open borders, crony capitalist budgets, and lousy trade deals. In response to charges from "the GOP machine" that "we're not conservative enough," Palin asked, "Is it conservative to watch safety nets turn to hammocks?" She asked similar questions about open borders, trillion-dollar blank checks to Obama, and trillions in added debt. She encapsulated the GOP's Trump problem: A failure by congressional leadership to keep faith with the people who returned them to majority status opened the door for someone, as Palin put it, "ballsy enough to put issues on the table." (Which line got a huge cheer.)

It was striking that, with one exception, the two did not criticize any of Trump's rivals for the nomination. Trump's shots at Cruz earlier in the week had brought criticism from conservative talk radio. He may also have held back because of Cruz's popularity with Oklahoma conservatives.

The one shot Trump took at a rival was aimed at Jeb Bush. Trump trumpeted the latest poll numbers from Florida, which showed Trump at 48, Cruz at 16, Rubio at 11, and Bush "down in the toilet." Bush, he said, "is a stiff, no question about it." Referring to recent TV appearances of conservative pundits, Trump said Karl Rove looked "like a boiler waiting to explode." "You take the glasses away from George Will, and he's a stupid-looking guy."

Trump also took potshots at the camera crews at the back of the room, calling them "disgusting" because they only showed the crowd when a protest erupted. KOTV News on 6 anchor Terry Hood took offense, responding on Facebook:

Ok, so I'm watching the Trump video and this part was upsetting to me. The "disgusting" photographer he was talking about from Channel 6 is one of my best friends. His job was to keep the camera on Trump because we were live streaming his speech. We had another photog shooting the crowd and still another covering his arrival and departure from the airport. None of them deserve to be called names by this man.

About halfway into Trump's speech, around 1:45, I noticed that people began leaving in twos or threes. The stream of departures grew as time went on. (Trump continued to speak until 2:06.) I imagine many people had expected to be done early enough to make it back to work or to class by 2:00 p.m.; perhaps others had had their curiosity satisfied and were ready to get on with the day.

As the speech entered its second half, a few more protests erupted. It seemed as if the protesters figured that time was running out to get the attention they wanted.

Trump concluded by repeating like a mantra "We're going to win!"

RELATED:

Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip "Dilbert," is also a trained hypnotist and is a student of the art of persuasion. In his blog, Adams has been analyzing Trump's methods of persuasion, and he has come to the conclusion that Trump is unbeatable. In his latest post, Adams says that National Review's latest issue warning its readers that Trump is not a conservative is in reality a capitulation. "You'll see a lot of debate on whether Trump is a true conservative or not. That is argument by definition. It is the linguistic equivalent of throwing your gun at a monster because the magazine is empty." Earlier, Adams explained why Palin's endorsement is "probably a home run":

Trump's biggest obstacle is his perceived lack of empathy, along with voter suspicions about his motives. Palin's endorsement says, in effect, that she doesn't see anything dark in his soul. You can dislike Palin's politics, but she is ridiculously likable on a personal level. And that likability probably translates into some sort of irrational trust about her people-judging skills.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 24, 2016 11:17 PM.

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