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Commentary: Donald Trump went on a comeback tour. He just made things worse

Supporters listen as President Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton has positioned himself as a formidable threat to the reelection prospects of President Trump while hawking his behind-the-scenes memoir, “The Room Where It Happened.”

“Why is this the book President Trump doesn’t want anyone to read?,” ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked Bolton on Sunday during his first TV interview about the book, which Trump has tried and failed to delay from being released on June 23.

“Because this is a book of facts. It’s not a book of theories or accusations or emotional responses,” answered Bolton, who chose to hold onto those “facts” while serving in the administration but now stands to profit greatly by selling them in book form.

Swooping in like a bespectacled avenger, he arrived just in time to tell the American people what they already know: The president lied about Ukraine, pandered to North Korea and is surrounded by folks who don’t take a stand when it matters. They wait for lucrative book deals instead.

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There were empty seats throughout the upper decks of Tulsa’s downtown arena when Trump took the stage, a sharp blow to a president who is counting on faithful audiences to buoy his sagging reelection chances.

Despite his expertise on foreign and rogue players, though, Bolton had already been out-strategized by another former Trump ally: social media.

TikTok-ers, tweeters and throngs of K-Pop fans on a multitude of platforms apparently dealt their own blow to the president’s reelection campaign last weekend with little more than their family-plan smart phones. Organized armies of users reserved thousands of free tickets for the “Make America Great Again” rally in Tulsa, Okla., Saturday through the Trump campaign website. Then they didn’t show up.

The million attendees Trump was expecting turned out to be more like 6,200, according to the Tulsa fire department. There were more empty blue chairs in the 19,000-capacity Bank of Oklahoma Center than people. They appeared deflated during the president’s grievance-heavy speech, in which he spent a good 15 minutes explaining away that viral video clip of him gingerly tottering down a ramp after delivering a speech at West Point. The chairs looked unimpressed.

Trump was “rolled by America’s teens,” tweeted veteran Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt of the poorly attended rally.

The showman lost his pizzazz and many of his fans. Even his trusty fallback of racist rhetoric — he referred to COVID19 as “Kung Flu” during the rally — failed to ignite his followers. But it did spark a debate in Monday’s White House briefing.

CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang pressed White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany about why Trump used the racist term.

“It’s a fair thing to point out as China tries to ridiculously rewrite history, to ridiculously blame the coronavirus on American soldiers,” said McEnany. “President Trump is trying to say, ‘No, China, I will label this virus for its place of origin.’”

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No, John Oliver did not write that, but he may need to retire knowing there’s nothing left to satirize.

John Bolton sits for a televised interview with Martha Raddatz about his memoir, "The Room Where It Happened."
John Bolton sits for a televised interview with Martha Raddatz about his memoir of the Trump administration, “The Room Where It Happened.”
(ABC News)

The one-two punch of Bolton’s book and the Tulsa rally letdown comes on the heels of a pandemic response that’s drawn widespread criticism — and is likely far from over, based on epidemiological data across the south and southwest.

Add to that Trump’s bunkered stance on the protests over George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police, including the disastrous Bible-toting photo op for which civilians were tear-gassed, and he’s closer to a naked emperor moment than he’s been since infiltrating the Oval Office.

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Did Bolton really think he could do more damage to the Trump presidency than the president himself? (Trump did break up with him on Twitter, though Bolton insists he resigned first.)

Still, the ex-staffer with the Fuller Brush mustache tried his best Monday morning to condemn his former employer during an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ brought the 1921 Tulsa race massacre to new prominence. Director Nicole Kassell reflects on its influence — and Donald Trump’s ‘cruel’ rally.

“His policymaking is so incoherent, so unfocused, so unstructured, so wrapped around his own personal political fortunes that mistakes are being made that will have grave consequences for the national security of the United States,” he told George Stephanopoulos.

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It was hardly a TikTok-level whammy. Bolton will have to up his game if he expects to compete with other attention-grabbing factions that’ve turned on the president in spectacular ways.

He did proclaim that history will remember Trump as “an aberration.” Maybe. Russian trolls helped elevate a reality TV star to the White House. It stands to reason that K-Pop fans will take him down.

Whether Trump’s recent flailing sticks or he bounces back (yet again) by midsummer, it’s clear that media — traditional as well social — is increasingly uninterested in carrying water for the president out of deference to his office, and it may be trickling down into disappointing turnout at rallies and flagging approval ratings. After all, the parable of the emperor without clothes is not about the leader himself — it’s about those around him speaking the truth.


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