President Trump plans to jolt his campaign to life Saturday with musical acts and a second stage that allows him to address an overflow crowd in Tulsa, Oklahoma, turning his rally comeback into an all-out spectacle as he tries to rebuild the economy and prove that the nation can reopen safely.
High-profile surrogates are being flown to Tulsa late Friday, and camera crews will be on hand to cut campaign ads as the extravaganza unfolds.
Mr. Trump’s opponents say he is courting disaster by scheduling a mass gathering during a pandemic. Oklahoma recorded another single-day high of COVID-19 cases at midweek, and Tulsa’s health director said he wished the campaign would postpone its first rally since early March.
But the party is only getting bigger. Mr. Trump plans to address outdoor supporters, but not for social-distancing safety — just to reach the throng of people who couldn’t get inside. Mr. Trump said he wants to showcase a country on the rebound.
“The third quarter is going to have the highest GDP in the history of mankind. And you see it is building. The Democrats don’t want to open. They are fighting like hell,” he told The Washington Times on Thursday. “They don’t want me to have the rally on Saturday. The rally is massive.”
The Trump campaign has pointed to massive street protests against racial injustice in justifying its gathering.
“They are saying, ‘If you go, you are going to die. This is a death. He is trying to kill you,’” Mr. Trump said. “You know, the protesters — there were thousands of them walking down Fifth Avenue.”
The campaign said more than 1 million people registered for tickets, allowing it to sweep up data from supporters.
The Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) Center can hold only about 19,000 people, so the campaign expects tens of thousands more outside. Some people began lining up outside the arena Thursday, set up “TRUMP 2020” signs or sang songs.
“Oklahoma is ready for your visit. It’s going to be safe, and we’re really, really excited,” Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, told Mr. Trump at a White House roundtable.
Oklahoma is a deeply red state, giving Mr. Trump a receptive platform for his first rally since early March, when the coronavirus began to rip through U.S. communities. Yet his decision to visit Tulsa sparked controversy from the start.
The campaign initially scheduled the rally for Friday, which is Juneteenth — a day that celebrates the Texas reading in 1865 of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed enslaved black people.
The campaign moved the rally back a day to avoid overlap with observances.
“I did something good. I made Juneteenth very famous,” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal, referring to the resulting news coverage. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
The White House released a presidential message on Juneteenth last year.
Tulsa was also the site of a 1921 massacre when mobs of white people destroyed the Greenwood district, known as Black Wall Street, killing dozens of black residents and injuring hundreds. Community organizers started a fundraising campaign Thursday to restore and rebuild buildings in the historic area.
Mr. Stitt initially wanted Mr. Trump to tour the neighborhood but backtracked after local officials objected. They said a presidential visit would be disruptive and could provoke confrontation amid Juneteenth activities.
The Rev. Al Sharpton will give keynote remarks Friday at a commemoration in Greenwood with the family of Terence Crutcher, a man who was killed by a police shooting in 2016.
A lawsuit that sought to block the rally, citing fears of coronavirus transmission, was denied earlier in the week. The Democratic National Committee scolded Mr. Trump on Thursday for pushing ahead, as case counts and hospitalizations from COVID-19 rise across the Sun Belt and the U.S. death toll tops 118,000.
“As confirmed cases of #COVID19 rise, Trump is trying to sweep the numbers under the rug to protect his election chances. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself,” the DNC tweeted.
The Trump campaign said it will check temperatures and distribute hand sanitizer and masks at the door, though face-covering will be optional.
COVID-19 cases reached a single-day high of 259 in Oklahoma at midweek.
Mr. Stitt told Mr. Trump that while cases have increased, they are largely among younger people who haven’t shown symptoms. He also said increased testing has revealed more cases, though the percentage of positive tests hasn’t spiked.
“We’re ready to get things back to normal and get life back to normal,” Mr. Stitt told Mr. Trump. “Again, we can’t wait to have you in Oklahoma on Saturday.”