Give Donald Trump credit. The man knows how to give his rivals a boost.
Former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke held a rally Monday night as counterprogramming to Trump’s own event just down the street. Trump could have just ignored it. After all, he is President of the United States, while O’Rourke is an unemployed ex-congressman who lost a Senate race in November and may or may not jump into an already overcrowded primary for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
But Trump being Trump, he couldn’t stand the thought of someone taking away a bit of the spotlight. So he took a moment during the speech to slam the size of O’Rourke’s crowd while trumpeting his own:
| “He challenged us. So we have let’s, say, 35,000 people tonight. And he has 200 people, 300 people. Not too good. In fact, what I’d do, what I would say is that may be the end of his presidential bid.” |
In fact, per NBC News, O’Rourke’s rally drew around 7,000 to 8,000 people. Trump’s drew around 6,500, which was the arena’s capacity, with a few thousand more outside. No one seems to be estimating that outside crowd at anywhere near the 28,500 Trump would need to make his claim of 35,000 true.
None of this will matter to Trump’s fanatical supporters, who think any crowd-size estimates that contradict his own are fake news. And in the long list of Trumpian lies, this is one of the smaller ones. Overestimating his crowd sizes was literally the first lie Trump told when he kicked off his presidential campaign in June of 2015. (I was there and can assure everyone there were not “thousands” of fans packed into Trump Tower. Even if you discount the paid crowd fillers.)
But by making such ridiculous assertions as the one in El Paso, Trump immediately gives the media a frame for reporting positively on O’Rourke and negatively on Trump. He also gives a boost to a potential candidate who was already polling decently in the Democratic primary field, even though he has yet to announce if he is running.
The most ridiculous part of all of this is that measuring crowd size in this context is a bit of a worthless metric. We’re too far from the Democratic primaries to say that a large crowd turning out for O’Rourke in his hometown, which he represented in Congress for two years, means anything for when the voting starts in a year. Similarly, a Republican president of the United States holding a rally in a solidly red state should be able to draw thousands of his supporters. It is not a particularly noteworthy accomplishment.
But Trump’s insatiable ego means that crowd size gets put front and center as a metric of his popularity. Which leads to him getting outclassed by nearly any Democratic politician in this age of heightened public engagement.