by Sebastian Smith
Donald Trump’s presidency was in turmoil Thursday after top ex-aide John Bolton declared him unfit for office in a bombshell book and the Supreme Court blocked a key part of his re-election vow to deport undocumented migrants.
The mounting drama around the Republican’s already rocky re-election bid raised the stakes for his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday — the first he will have held since the US coronavirus lockdown began, but mired in controversy over whether it is safe.
Trump’s once supremely self-confident march toward a second term was already in a hole due to criticism over his responses to the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide anti-racism protests.
A Supreme Court ruling against his administration’s bid to remove protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants classified as “Dreamers” struck another body blow.
Trump’s platform rests in large part on his promise to crack down on illegal immigration. His push to get the “Dreamers” deported symbolized that hardline position.
The ruling was doubly stinging because Trump has long boasted that his appointing of two justices succeeded in tilting the nation’s top court to the right.
In an outburst on Twitter, Trump called this and other recent rulings he didn’t like “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans.”
He also faced a blistering insider attack from Bolton, a lifelong Republican who saw Trump from up close as national security advisor.
“I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job,” Bolton told ABC News to promote his book, “The Room Where it Happened.”
The book — which the White House is trying desperately to get blocked by court order — alleges that Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for re-election help, obstructed justice, and was no match for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle,” Bolton told ABC.
Trump, who has assiduously built his image as a president who is tough on China, lashed back at Bolton, calling him a “sick puppy” and dismissing the book as “fiction.”
In an apparent bid to underline his tough stance, Trump threatened in a tweet that a “complete decoupling” between the deeply entwined US and Chinese economies is an “option.” Just the previous day, his hawkish trade ambassador Robert Lighthizer had told Congress this would be unfeasible.
‘Back on the road’?
On Saturday, Trump will fly to Tulsa to hold his first campaign rally since March.
With his TV show background and natural populist flair, Trump is far happier in front of cheering crowds than in the formal settings of the White House.
He is “very excited to get back on the road,” his advisor Kellyanne Conway said.
He’ll be hoping that the razzmatazz and the energy of the 20,000 strong crowd will jumpstart his re-election, which polls show him currently losing heavily to Democrat Joe Biden. Even as Americans only slowly ease out of lockdown, several other rallies are already being planned.
Trump is also going to have to hope that he doesn’t go down in history as the president who put political rallies ahead of people’s lives.
Tulsa is seeing a local spike in coronavirus cases and the city’s main newspaper, the state health chief and many others have warned that the huge crowd in an enclosed space could become a viral incubator.
A lawsuit filed in a Tulsa court to try to stop the rally called it a virus “superspreader.”
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, said Thursday “it’s going to be safe and we’re really, really excited.” And the Trump campaign says it will take temperatures and distribute masks to rally goers.
Tellingly, though, it is also requiring anyone attending to sign a waiver, making them unable to hold the organizers responsible for getting sick.
Trump’s Tulsa rally suffered a further setback when it was scheduled originally for this Friday, which is the June 19th or “Juneteenth” anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States.
Amid soaring racial tensions and anger from civil rights groups at his handling of the police violence protests, that struck the wrong tone and Trump was forced to shift to Saturday.
“Nobody had ever heard of it,” he claimed in a Wall Street Journal interview published Thursday. “I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous.”
In fact, the White House annually puts out a statement commemorating the occasion, which is also marked by nearly all US states.