Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took his controversial but increasingly popular act to Phoenix, July 11, 2015, drawing a feverish reception among a crowd of Maricopa County Republicans.
But just how big was the crowd?
The reality is the crowd was big, but not that big, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pointed out.
"I mean, no, there weren’t 15,000 people who turned out in Phoenix to see Donald Trump," Maddow said on July 13, 2015. "But there were a few thousand people. That was bigger than the other Republican candidates are getting, in terms of crowd size."
Trump’s own Twitter timeline tells much of the story behind the event, with the rest of the details filled in by journalists’ accounts and our interviews with public officials.
The event, hosted by the Maricopa County Republican Party (home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the immigration hard-liner who spoke before Trump), was supposed to be at the Arizona Biltmore resort hotel. But with larger-than-expected crowds, the campaign moved the event to the Phoenix Convention Center.
Trump was excited about the buzz on the day before his Saturday speech, tweeting, "Look forward to being in Phoenix tomorrow at 2:00 P.M. Hottest ticket in entire country. Was supposed to be 500 people, now many thousands!"
Media previews of the speech mentioned anywhere from 3,500-9,000 people were planning to come to the speech.
As organizers began letting people in, a line wrapped around the convention center. Many people — hard to say how many, though some reports put it around 1,000 — were turned away. Arizona Republic national political reporter Dan Nowicki describes "bedlam in the ballroom" as Trump took the stage an hour after the planned start.
In between insulting 23 people or things in his speech, as counted by the Washington Post, Trump also remarked about the size of the crowd. According to CNN, Trump said, "This is unbelievable. This began as 500 people in a ballroom in Phoenix." He also said the crowd "blows away" crowds for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whose recent crowds are drawing headlines.
So how big was Trump’s showing? The Post put the crowd size at 4,200. CNN guessed around 5,000, quoting the Trump campaign as saying 15,000 tickets were distributed.
But that’s not what Trump saw. Trump toasted the crowd on his Facebook page that night, writing, "This is what 15,000 people looks like."
City officials started pushing back on Trump’s claim. In a statement shared with PunditFact, the city fire department said capacity for the North Ballroom was 4,200 people. The doors were closed at 4,169 attendees, said Phoenix Fire Department spokeswoman Shelly Jamison.
"Once that capacity was reached, we closed the doors," she said. "The Phoenix Convention Center has a fire prevention specialist who is an expert on large events (e.g. Super Bowl Fan Fest, Comicon, etc) assigned specifically to the Phoenix Convention Center to enforce fire code compliance."
Brahm Resnik, a TV reporter with 12 News in Arizona, questioned on Twitter why Trump would exaggerate an already respectable crowd size as he fact-checked Trump’s crowd-size claims in his reports. (Maddow played one of his reports before making her claim on the show.)
Trump did not take kindly to the questions about his crowd size. He doubled down, tweeting July 12, "Convention Center officials in Phoenix don't want to admit that they broke the fire code by allowing 12-15,000 people in 4,000 code room."
Also: "Phoenix Convention Center officials did not want to have thousands of people standing outside in the heat, so they let them in. A GREAT day!"
The Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.
For comparison sake, here is an image of the Bryce Jordan Center, home to Penn State University’s basketball team. Its listed seating capacity is just over 15,000.
And here’s the widest picture of Trump’s Phoenix speech that we could locate. It comes from Charlie Leight of Getty Images.
Maddow called out Trump for exaggerating the size of his audience in Phoenix, saying 15,000 people did not attend his speech despite his claim on Facebook to the contrary.
News stories and the city fire department back up her point. By many accounts, the crowd size and atmosphere was impressive, but it was about three times smaller than he described.
We rate Maddow’s claim True.