WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump’s presidential reelection campaign chartered jets to fly in VIPs to attend his much-hyped but ultimately flopped Oklahoma rally on Saturday, including his pro-Brexit ally Nigel Farage, who was given a “national interest” waiver to enter the country despite the coronavirus travel ban.
Farage, who recently lost his radio show in Britain after comparing Black Lives Matter protesters to the Taliban, was flown from Palm Beach, Florida, to Tulsa for the evening rally, and then to New York City, according to an informal Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“This was supposed to be a festival to celebrate Trump and Trumpism, and it laid an egg,” the adviser said, adding that more than 100 high-profile guests had been flown in and put up in hotels on the campaign’s dime.
How much the campaign or the Republican National Committee paid for Farage and the other invited guests to fly to the rally and stay in Tulsa is unclear. Neither the campaign nor the RNC responded to HuffPost queries on the matter, and filings that could shed some light on that question are not due at the Federal Election Commission until July 20.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security would explain what “national interest” was served by allowing in Farage solely to let him attend a Trump rally.
His presence in Palm Beach ― a photo of which was posted to his Twitter account Saturday morning ― and at the rally has piqued the interest of House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who on Monday asked DHS to produce documents explaining Farage’s entry.
“The decision of the Trump Administration to admit Mr. Farage to the United States to enable him to attend a campaign rally at a time when most travel from the United Kingdom to the U.S. has been suspended raises numerous troubling questions,” Thompson wrote.
Farage, who had already returned to Britain on Monday, could not be reached for comment. He has for several years been popular with white nationalist groups both in the U.K. and the United States. He led the United Kingdom Independence Party and its successful push for that country to leave the European Union, which Trump also supported. Farage appeared at a Trump rally in Mississippi in 2016, and then visited the president-elect at Trump Tower after the November election.
One top Republican donor, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said he could not understand the value of spending campaign funds to ferry Farage around. “I don’t know why they’d waste money on that,” he said.
The chartered flights would add additional tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of the rally, which included a massive outdoor stage with concert-quality sound for an expected overflow crowd that never materialized, a daylong onsite party of food and music, and even a street festival for the surrounding blocks that would have featured other speakers and musicians.
The off-site plans fell by the wayside last week when it became clear that protesters against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month would also descend on Trump’s appearance.
The campaign had initially scheduled the rally for June 19, apparently unaware that the date was Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the emancipation of the last remaining Black slaves in the U.S. The campaign also seemed unaware that Tulsa was the site of the worst anti-Black massacre in the nation’s history.
Trump backed down from that date following several days of criticism and moved it to Saturday, June 20. He continued claiming his campaign had received 1 million ticket requests and that at least a 10th of those ticketholders would actually show up in Tulsa.
“We’re either close to or over 1 million people wanting to go,” he said last week in the White House Cabinet Room. “Which would mean they would have over 900,000 people that won’t be able to go.”
Indeed, the original plan called for nearly 20,000 inside the arena, 25,000 more outside who would get their own Trump appearance and 100,000 at the street festival in the surrounding area.
In the end, though, only a tiny fraction of those expected to attend and an even tinier fraction of those who requested tickets showed up. Tulsa’s fire department reported a total of just under 6,200 inside the arena. There was no overflow crowd, and campaign officials began breaking down the outdoor stage even before Trump’s arrival.
Trump was incensed by the poor turnout, which both he and his campaign blamed on protesters blocking access to the entrances -- which neither journalists at the site nor the Tulsa Police Department reported happening -- and on media coverage of Trump’s insistence on holding a rally even as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised Americans to avoid crowded indoor areas, particularly where masks are not being worn. That description fit the Bank of Oklahoma Center nearly perfectly, as most attendees followed Trump’s lead and chose not to wear a mask.
Whether Trump will replace campaign manager Brad Parscale or others who planned the rally and assured him of high turnout is unclear. Parscale had no experience in politics prior to 2015, when he was hired to make Trump’s campaign web site, but then he earned millions after Trump won the Republican nomination and then the presidency. Trump made him campaign manager for his 2020 run in 2018.
“I think this one finally put a stake in him,” the GOP donor said, adding that a number of Trump’s advisers have been clamoring for Parscale’s firing for months. “He’s got the brag thing down, but he doesn’t have the delivery thing down.”
Neither Parscale nor others at the campaign responded to HuffPost queries, but the outside Trump adviser said Parscale is likely safe because he continues secretly paying the wife of one Trump son and the girlfriend of another $180,000 per year using campaign money funneled through his personal business.
“They can’t fire Brad,” the adviser said. “He’s the paymaster.”