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Donald Trump wants a record crowd for his inauguration, but he may be disappointed

President Barack Obama’s first inauguration drew a record 1.8 million people to the National Mall on Jan. 20, 2009. Planners say President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration is expected to draw 800,000, based on past attendance and data including hotel and restaurant reservations and chartered buses.
President Barack Obama’s first inauguration drew a record 1.8 million people to the National Mall on Jan. 20, 2009. Planners say President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration is expected to draw 800,000, based on past attendance and data including hotel and restaurant reservations and chartered buses. AP

In a tweet a week ago, Donald Trump urged his fans to head to Washington to see him get sworn in on Jan. 20.

“Let’s set the all time record!” tweeted the president-elect.

But planners who are gearing up for the big day predict that Trump will fall way short of his goal: They’re estimating a crowd of roughly 800,000, fewer than half the 1.8 million people who attended President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

“It’s not even close to a record,” said Jim Bendat, a California expert on presidential inauguration history, who wrote a book on the subject.

It’s not even close to a record. . . . It’s a far cry.

Jim Bendat, expert on inauguration history, on the 800,000 people expected to attend Trump’s inauguration

After a bitter election, Trump is headed for the White House with only 48 percent of Americans approving of the way he’s handled his presidential transition.

Trump has had a tough time lining up A-list talent to perform, most recently when Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli backed out this week after his fans complained.

Even many high school bands have shown uninterest: An Arizona company that organizes trips for bands says inquiries are down by at least 50 percent compared with 2009.

“Excitement and enthusiasm levels are down this year, ” said Luke Wiscombe, marketing director for Music Celebrations International in Tempe, Arizona. “With President Obama’s inauguration, there was a lot of interest.”

Excitement and enthusiasm levels are down this year. With President Obama’s inauguration, there was a lot of interest.

Luke Wiscombe, marketing director, Music Celebrations International

Wiscombe is hoping to do business with one marching band in Washington state: Sumner High School, where band director Joe Carl is eagerly awaiting word on whether his band will get chosen.

“We really got the idea to do this long before the election,” Carl said. “We’re not there for the politics of it – we’re there really to be part of history. So many of our students have never been to Washington, D.C. – just to be there and to see history unfolding and us being right in the middle of it.”

Still, hotels, bars and restaurants in Washington, D.C., and the city’s surrounding suburbs are hoping to do well. The new five-star Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue is sold out. A study by George Mason University predicts a $1.4 billion infusion for the region’s economy.

“The enthusiasm for Trump is far less, just because this was such a nasty political season, but this is a shot in the arm,” said Stephen Fuller, the economist who conducted the study. “And it’s particularly important in January, which has the lowest occupancy rates for hotels. People aren’t going out to eat as much, and the weather’s miserable.”

This is a shot in the arm. And it’s particularly important in January, which has the lowest occupancy rates for hotels. People aren’t going out to eat as much and the weather’s miserable.

Stephen Fuller, economist, George Mason University

Weather is always the wild card for inauguration planners.

Last January, for example, Washington was hit by a blizzard that paralyzed the city with more than 2 feet of snow. And in 1985, below-zero wind chills forced President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration to be moved inside.

At the Capitol, construction is underway on the huge 10,000-square-foot platform that Trump will stand on as he takes the oath as the nation’s 45th president. It will hold more than 1,600 people, including Trump’s family, former presidents, the Supreme Court, Cabinet members and nominees, members of Congress, governors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Always the showman, Trump and a couple of his friends have discussed the possibility of having the president-elect arrive by helicopter from New York as millions watch around the world, according to The New York Times.

But details announced so far point to a very traditional inauguration. On Wednesday, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said Trump would be in Washington a day before the inauguration to lay a wreath at Arlington National Ceremony and attend a “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial. The day after he’s sworn in, the new president plans to go to Washington’s National Cathedral for the National Prayer Service.

Trying to estimate a crowd count, particularly in advance, is a big guessing game. Planners rely on past attendance records and data from various sources, including hotel and restaurant reservations and the number of expected chartered buses.

1.8 millionThe record turnout for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, in 2009.

Obama broke the previous attendance record for an inauguration, set in 1965, when 1.2 million people witnessed the swearing-in of President Lyndon Johnson.

President Bill Clinton drew a crowd of roughly 800,000 in 1993, while President George W. Bush drew smaller crowds, an estimated 300,000 for his first inauguration in 2001 and 400,000 for his second inauguration in 2005.

Members of Congress will have 240,000 tickets to distribute for the inauguration. The four Republican members of the Idaho delegation have pooled their tickets and set up an online system for people to register. They’re not disclosing how many tickets they have to give away, but “ticket demand has been strong,” said Robert Sumner, spokesman for GOP Sen. Mike Crapo.

Officials say the total crowd for the weekend of the Trump inauguration could easily exceed 1 million, especially if you include the more than 200,000 who are expected for the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. More than a dozen groups, both pro-Trump and anti-Trump, have applied to use public space for protests. That includes thousands of Bikers for Trump.

Trump got low marks in last week’s Gallup Poll, with 48 percent each approving and disapproving of the way he’s handled his transition. By comparison, at least 65 percent said they approved of the way that Obama, Bush and Clinton handled their transitions at similar points in time.

So far, the list of performers is short. Jackie Evancho, of “America’s Got Talent,” is expected to sing the national anthem and the Rockettes will perform. On Thursday, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir said it had accepted an invitation to sing. Other possibilities mentioned often are Trump supporters Ted Nugent and Kid Rock.

“Maybe they’ll ask me to sing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want,’ ” tweeted Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, after Trump played the song at the end of his acceptance speech in New York on Nov. 9.

In another tweet on Thursday, Trump suggested that he didn’t care whether any “A-list celebrities” showed up at his inauguration, saying they’d done nothing to help Democrat Hillary Clinton in her presidential campaign.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee won’t say how many high school bands have applied to march in Trump’s parade. Earlier this month, many news outlets reported that not a single school district in the Washington, D.C., metro region had bothered to apply.

Winning bands have slowly been notified this week, including the Russellville, Arkansas, high school band, the Palmetto Ridge High School Band in Collier County, Florida, the West Monroe High School Rebel Band in Louisiana, the Tupelo, Mississippi, high school band and the Franklin Regional Panther Marching Band of Pennsylvania.

I’m sorry to say I haven’t heard anything yet.

Joe Carl, band director at Sumner High School in Washington state

In Washington state, Carl, the Sumner High band director, said he was staying close to his phone and checking his email often to see whether his marching band would join the list of winners. He said he was unsure how winners got notified, since it was the first time his school had applied. With the inauguration only four weeks away, he’s worried that time is running short to plan a big trip.

“I’m sorry to say I haven’t heard anything yet,” Carl said Friday.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob

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