The president is notoriously sensitive to mockery about his crowd sizes. It came as no surprise, then, that when photos emerged of rows of empty seats at Trump's first Christmas tree lighting ceremony, his opponents united to cackle about it.
"Nobody showed up!" crowed Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe on Friday morning, with co-host Mike Brzezinski adding for good measure, "That’s a low turnout!"
The comments came largely in response to a photo shared by ABC7 meteorologist Steve Rudin, who posted a photo to Twitter that appeared to show hundreds of empty seats. "The National Tree Lighting ceremony was beautiful this evening — but hard not to notice the empty seats," he wrote alongside the picture.
To be clear, it's anyone's guess how many people actually showed up to President Trump's tree lighting ceremony versus former President Obama's ceremonies. Fox 5 points out that tickets to the event are given out via lottery, and so empty seats are often the fault of people who obtain a ticket and then don't show. Fox 5 also points to one image of Obama's 2015 tree lighting ceremony, which revealed just as many empty seats as in Rudin's photo.
"A lot of empty seats at showtime for the White House Christmas Tree lighting ceremony," photojournalist Don Watrud captioned the photo.
Given the now-infamous incident involving the crowd sizes at Trump's inauguration — which was sparsely attended, according to bird's-eye photos, and yet described by Sean Spicer as "the largest audience ever" at a presidential inauguration — it's easy to see how these jokes were born.
Obviously, observers on Twitter sandwiched photos of overcrowded moments at past tree ceremonies beside Rudin's photograph, suggesting it was a referendum of sorts of his popularity.
A Stark Distinction
I'm Sensing A Theme
A Comparison With Obama's
Laughing So Hard
Sitting With The Crowd
Traditionally Only Standing Room
TMZ also points out that Trump's Christmas tree lighting bill came to more than Obama's — $101,000 versus $128,000 — and that Obama's bill didn't include a new purchase of bulletproof glass.
There's no evidence that Trump's ceremony was attended by less people than Obama's had been. Although a set amount of tickets are given out ahead of time, as the National Park Service told Fox 5, there's no official tally of how many people attended. Certainly, photos taken from the front row would look vastly different, whether the ceremony was Trump's or Obama's.
Still, that didn't stop Trump's critics from gleefully reveling in the images of a seemingly abandoned ceremony. Said Scarborough, with whom Trump has a well-publicized rivalry: "There were people that did side by side comparisons with last year and this year, and my gosh, last year it really was a mob scene, it shuts Washington down, you can’t move anywhere around the location."
"Someone, we know, is not going to be happy with that photo," added MSNBC contributor Katty Kay.
The controversy over crowd sizes dates back to the very beginning of this year. Shortly after Trump was sworn in, the National Park Service tweeted a photo comparing the crowd sizes of Trump's inauguration to Obama, which led to a fiery outburst from then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer about how the photos didn't resemble the crowd at the inauguration itself.
According to the Washington Post, Trump personally called the National Park Service's then-director and demanded more photos be published. The entire furor led to a month-long investigation into whether the NPS had doctored the photos. Eventually, the reported concluded that no such altering had been done:
We did not find evidence to substantiate any of these allegations. All of the witnesses we interviewed denied that the NAMA official instructed staff to alter records for the inauguration or to remove crowd size information. We also found no evidence that the public affairs employees released any information to the media about the President’s phone call.
Trump has not commented on the crowd size for his tree lighting ceremony.