Let’s be trivial for a minute. Forget our endless supply of critical problems and just try to think of a good way to torture Donald Trump.
Reasoned criticism never works. We have to go down to his level if we want to get his attention. Not by making fun of his hair or his girth or the orangish glow of his face. Deriding people for their looks is beneath us. Besides, he seems so confident he’s a charmer nothing is going to shake him.
If we want to really make him crazy, we ought to start a rumor that he can’t draw a crowd.
You know how obsessed Trump is with this subject. Whenever he holds a rally — which seems to be pretty much every other day — he brags about the enormous number of people thronging in to see him:
“There have never been crowds like this, just so you understand, in the history of politics.”
“This is some record crowd.”
“I’ve broken more Elton John [attendance] records, and I don’t have a musical instrument.”
There are two important points about that last comment. One is that the president went on to say that his only musical instrument was his mouth, “and hopefully the brain is attached to the mouth.” There are so many ways, really, we could have finished that thought.
The other is that Elton John is a way bigger draw.
Trump can’t bear suggestions that he’s not a crowd megamagnet. Every time he gets on a stage, he seems compelled to claim the audience is of epic proportions. The place is packed! Not to mention the masses waiting outside!
Back in February, he did an event in El Paso, Texas, on the same day Beto O’Rourke was holding his own rally. The one-sided fight over who had the biggest crowd became sort of insane — not to mention sort of phallic. “We have, let’s say, 35,000 people tonight and he has 200 people, 300 people. Not too good!” the president of the United States crowed.
The beat-Beto obsession went on and on. O’Rourke, in one of the better moments of his political career, said that analysis “just shows you how sick this guy is.” It also showed how bad Trump is at math — local fire officials said that the capacity of his auditorium was around 6,500, and there were, at the most, 10,000 more people standing outside. O’Rourke had crowd estimates of up to 15,000.
If only there were headlines all around Texas announcing, “Trump Audience Size Disappointing.” Or better yet: “Did Beto Draw Better?” Can you imagine how miserable that would make the commander in chief?
Maybe that’s going too far — despite the president’s complaints to the contrary, the mainstream-media reporters covering him try very hard to be fair. However, we’re in the Opinion section right now. So let’s be catty.
The El Paso crowd became a national issue last week when Trump went to visit the victims of the Walmart shooting while the whole nation wondered if the tragedy was set off by the president’s rants about Mexicans at the border.
None of the patients wanted to see him, so Trump hung out with the staff. Almost instantly, he veered off into a reminiscence about that El Paso rally. “That place was packed. … We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto — Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot,” he burbled.
Nobody was going to challenge Trump’s numbers while standing, perhaps awe-struck, listening to the president of the United States brag about his crowd size in the wake of a terrible mass murder. And nobody was going to ask about it at his next press conference, since there hasn’t been one for more than 900 days.
Even Trump must have discovered that this was going way, way over the deep end. He refrained from saying a whole lot about attendance when he spoke in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. He did peer toward the media section and note that there were “a lot of people” for an 11 a.m. event. It was a point only slightly dulled by the fact that it was 2:42 in the afternoon.
The rally took place on the construction site of a big chemical plant. “It was the Trump administration that made it possible,” the president said of a project that was first announced in 2012. The trip was supposed to be an official White House speech about energy policy. That means you the taxpayer were underwriting his opportunity to brag about his victory margin in 2016 in West Virginia, make fun of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and announce the new numbers from Florida showed his re-election campaign was “looking fantastically good.”
He spoke to a crowd of about 5,000. Analyzing his effort, the reasonable thing to do would be to point out the deep, deep fault lines in his arguments about energy and economics. But you know he’d be oblivious. What if the headlines read “Disappointing Crowd for a Presidential Visit” and the stories focused on the fact that earlier this year in nearby Pittsburgh, Trevor Noah drew a healthy turnout at an arena that seats 12,500?
Not responsible journalism. But maybe it’d shock him into reality. Or at least leave him curled up in bed, sucking his thumb while somebody else ran the government.
Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.