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What does faltering start mean for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign?

The incumbent president will duel with Joe Biden for the keys to the White House in November.

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President Donald Trump exits Air Force One in Tulsa (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Donald Trump exits Air Force One in Tulsa (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Donald Trump exits Air Force One in Tulsa (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Donald Trump’s campaign relaunch got off to a rocky start, and his Republican critics are getting louder as Covid-19 infections continue to surge.

There were thousands of empty seats at the Oklahoma arena where Mr Trump hosted his comeback rally on Saturday, an embarrassing development at an event designed to showcase the Republican president’s strength.

Aides were scrambling to explain away the poor optics as they juggled damaging headlines on other fronts.

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Empty seats are visible in the upper level at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump (Matt Barnard/AP)

Empty seats are visible in the upper level at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump (Matt Barnard/AP)

AP/PA Images

Empty seats are visible in the upper level at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump (Matt Barnard/AP)

Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton’s much-anticipated book will be formally released this week.

At the same time, the president is trying to distance himself from Attorney General William Barr’s firing of the US attorney in Manhattan, who was forced out in the midst of investigating Mr Trump’s allies.


What happened in Tulsa?

The political world was genuinely surprised to see thousands of empty seats at Mr Trump’s comeback rally in Oklahoma over the weekend.

Critics often question the president’s grasp of policy, his discipline and his character, but before Tulsa, few people questioned his ability to pack an arena.

Was the relatively low turnout simply an anomaly caused by fears of protests, the pandemic or social media trolls?

Or was it a legitimate sign that the energy behind Mr Trump’s reelection is fading?

For a president obsessed with crowd size, this is clearly an embarrassing development that will linger into the week, even if Joe Biden might well have struggled to draw a crowd like Mr Trump did.

And perhaps more importantly, the finger-pointing inside Mr Trump’s campaign will intensify ahead of a possible staff shakeup.

Will voting problems continue?

Primary voters across New York and Kentucky offer another high-profile test on Tuesday for the nation’s election system amid continued coronavirus concerns.

After a series of disturbing recent trends in states like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada, election experts are worried.

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Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden (Matt Slocum/PA)

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden (Matt Slocum/PA)

AP/PA Images

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden (Matt Slocum/PA)

Georgia voters waited as long as five hours to cast ballots earlier in the month, a problem that disproportionately affected voters of colour.

And a surge in mail balloting created days-long delays in reporting final results in Pennsylvania, among other states.

Mr Trump and Mr Biden face no real opposition this week.

Has Democratic overconfidence become a problem?

As Mr Trump’s chaotic presidency continues, Democrats are increasingly under pressure to guard against overconfidence.

That’s easier said than done, especially as Mr Trump’s own advisers privately worry about his reelection prospects and a stream of public polls raise the prospect of a Biden victory.

Mr Biden’s numbers may be strong more than four months out, but it is easy to forget that he struggled badly to energise voters in early primary contests.

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Donald Trump and Joe Biden are going head to head in the White House race (Michelle Devane/AP)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are going head to head in the White House race (Michelle Devane/AP)

PA

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are going head to head in the White House race (Michelle Devane/AP)

And few progressive activists seem genuinely excited about his candidacy.

Mr Biden’s campaign and its allies will have their hands full in the coming weeks and months maintaining a real sense of urgency in its supporters.

History suggests that fear of Mr Trump alone is not enough.

How much damage will John Bolton do?

While the most damning details have already been reported, Mr Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, is scheduled for formal release on Tuesday.

That means Mr Trump is far from past the negative attention related to the book, which he ensured would remain a bestseller by suing unsuccessfully to block its publication.

Mr Bolton, who worked alongside Mr Trump in the White House for nearly a year and a half, has already called the president unfit for office.

He tops a remarkable list of people who have worked closely with Mr Trump and raised similar concerns.

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John Bolton (Yui Mok/PA)

John Bolton (Yui Mok/PA)

PA

John Bolton (Yui Mok/PA)

In recent weeks alone, former secretary of defence Jim Mattis called Mr Trump a threat to the Constitution; Mr Trump’s longest-serving chief of staff John Kelly agreed; and one of the administration’s highest ranking African Americans, Mary Elizabeth Taylor, resigned to protest against Mr Trump’s stance on racial justice.

Will Mr Trump’s attacks on Mr Biden’s mental capacity work?

Lest anyone think some things might be off limits in 2020, the Trump campaign ramped up its attacks on Mr Biden’s age, health and mental capacity last week by launching a website suggesting he’s “barely there”.

Among a series of the gaffe-prone Mr Biden’s career lowlights, the site notes that Mr Biden forgot when he had a brain aneurysm: “Both of his brain aneurysms were in 1988.”

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President Donald Trump steps off Marine One (Patrick Semansky/AP)

President Donald Trump steps off Marine One (Patrick Semansky/AP)

AP/PA Images

President Donald Trump steps off Marine One (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Mr Trump’s campaign is well aware that Mr Biden has siphoned away some of his support among older Americans, a trend that could prove extremely detrimental for Mr Trump in several states come November, especially in Florida.

Is this the kind of message that might help Mr Trump win back older voters?

One thing is clear: The deeply personal attack has become a pillar of Mr Trump’s 2020 strategy, and the president’s team has the money and the willingness to take it as far as it needs to.

What are the prospects for a second term?

As bad as it looks for Mr Trump’s reelection right now, 134 days is a lifetime in presidential politics.

His team has only begun to spend its tremendous resources to persuade swing state voters, the candidates have yet to debate and Mr Biden’s flaws aren’t going away.

PA