On Sept. 23 in Charleston, S.C., wire service photographer Mic Smith snapped some photos of a Donald Trump audience from the back of the hall. Because the back seats were empty, it looked like the hall was half empty.
Trump threw one of his famous tantrums, attacking Smith: “The photographer is a f—ing thief,” Trump said in an interview with the Daily Mail. “Tell them they’re a fraud, whoever took it. I just got killed on that thing, and it was just really unfair. It’s goddam unfair.”
Trump also flew off the handle at New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin (“dishonest”) and Politico (“really dishonest”) for their coverage of the photos.
Trump claimed that the people in the back rushed to the front of the hall to crowd around him at the podium, which is unlikely — why would the people in the back rows run forward and the people in the front rows stay in their seats?
“The point is that everybody from the back rushed to the front,” Trump said. “And the people who put out the pictures knew it. And they said, ‘Oh, look! The back 25 percent.’ “
Setting aside the matter of this billionaire attacking working people and what that says about his economic views, and setting aside how little he learned from his parents about courtesy and civility, and further setting aside his ridiculous overreaction to a couple of photos, an interesting question would be, What does this say about Trump’s administrative skills and judgment of people in putting together a campaign team that fell into one of the best known pitfalls in presidential politics?
In June 1948, President Truman took a train (planes were not yet common means of campaign travel) from D.C. to Berkeley and back. In Omaha, the advance work was left to an amateur and army buddy of Truman’s named Ed McKim, who lived there. He booked the president into a Shriner auditorium, the ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum, which seated 10,000. A couple of thousand people attended and they all sat up front. A photo taken from the rear of the hall ran in newspapers from coast to coast and the June 21 edition of Life magazine (“THE TRUMAN TRAIN STUMBLES WEST”).
The blunder became an object lesson in politics forever. It would be better, went the practice thereafter, to book a hall that was too small than too large, so that there was an overflowing hall rather than a half-empty hall. An account of Robert Kennedy’s campaign 20 years later reads, “Kennedy’s whistle-stop ended in Omaha, where he was scheduled to address a really in a twelve-thousand-seat auditorium. Omaha was notorious among Democrats for Truman’s disastrous appearance during the 1948 campaign, when he had addressed a very small audience in a very large auditorium, and photographs of rows of empty seats had appeared the next day on front pages across the nation.”
Truman, who could explode at critics who gave his singer-daughter bad reviews or generals who failed to follow his orders, did not browbeat the photographers who took photos of the Omaha hall, though he had more cause to than Trump. The Omaha incident came during a trip that was plagued by blunders along the way.
This is not, of course, the first time Trump has flown off the handle over something minor. It’s difficult to know how wild or uncontrolled he would be if something really serious happened to upset him.
Trump is becoming someone no one would want to have a beer with, no one would want to entertain in their home, no one would want to babysit their children for fear he would blow up at them.
Worse, his behavior raises the worst question a presidential candidate can face: Would you want this man to have his hand on the red phone?
— Dennis Myers is a veteran Nevada journalist