President Donald Trump spoke for 90 minutes to a crowd of several thousand gathered on an overcast Monday afternoon at the Lancaster County Airport, delivering a speech that leaned heavily on his greatest hits -- calling his opponent “Sleepy Joe,” blasting President Obama for surveilling his campaign four years ago, blaming the “fake news” media for bad press about him, celebrating the border wall and boasting of the big tax cuts his administration delivered.
Other than a mention of the industriousness of the Pennsylvania Dutch and a callout to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, the president said little about Lancaster County specifically, delivering instead a speech that seemed more appropriate for crowds in the energy producing parts of the state.
That didn’t matter much to the crowd, which interrupted the president with applause and cries of “four more years” throughout.
“I’d stand in all kinds of weather to see Trump,” said Sherry Yocum, of Allentown, under a floral umbrella while waiting in line as a light rain fell.
Sherry Yocum, of Allentown, came to the Lancaster rally instead of Trump’s rally in Allentown because she had already gotten tickets before that rally was announced. “I’ll stand in all kinds of weather to see Trump,” she said. pic.twitter.com/muUaE01mqS— Gillian McGoldrick (@gill_mcgoldrick) October 26, 2020
Few people in the crowd wore masks, and almost everyone stood within inches of one another. Attendees were required to go through a temperature check and wear a mask while going through security, but mask wearing was not enforced once inside the rally site.
After taking the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” Trump reveled at the sight of the crowd that had begun gathering overnight. “That’s a lot of people,” Trump said, smiling. “They’ve got themselves a big, big surprise coming, don’t they? It’s like four years ago.”
Lancaster County is a Republican stronghold that the president is expected to win easily next week. But with both campaigns seeing Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes as essential for winning, the president encouraged every possible Republican to cast a vote.
“Eight days from now we are going to win the commonwealth … and we are going to win four more years in the White House,” Trump said.
It was the second of three scheduled stops in Pennsylvania. He started his day with a rally in Allentown and ended in Martinsburg before heading back to the nation’s capital, where the White House was making plans for an evening celebration to honor the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I fought the hardest for you any president has ever fought,” Trump told the crowd.
Trump went off script several times as he responded to cries of support yelled by members of the crowd. He joked about his son Barron’s bout with COVID-19, which the teen shook off quickly, Trump said. He marveled at how fast Lancaster’s Amish communities, “incredible craftsmen” who can “throw up a barn in one or two days.”
Here’s a look at the crowd gathered at the Lancaster Airport. Several thousand people here so far, VERY few wearing masks or distancing. Attendees were required to wear a mask through security/get temp checked but masks aren’t enforced once inside. pic.twitter.com/FVOm9tLcmQ— Gillian McGoldrick (@gill_mcgoldrick) October 26, 2020
Trump as guardian
The president’s speech was heavy with warnings of what he said awaits the country if Joe Biden is elected -- a socialist society like the one in Venezuela, but on a bigger scale.
“I’m the only thing between you and chaos,” Trump said. "…I'm the only thing between you and pro-life, between you and the Second Amendment.”
Trump pitched himself as the candidate who will produce a “Trump boom” rather than a “Biden depression,” promising a middle-class tax cut in his second term as well as an end to surprise medical billing and blocking insurers from denying coverage for patients with pre-existing medical conditions.
“A vote for Republicans is a vote for the American dream,” Trump said.
Much of the first part of his speech was an attack on Biden’s position on fracking and climate change. At last week’s presidential debate, Biden expanded on his campaign’s plan to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in an effort to “transition away from the oil industry.” Since becoming the Democratic nominee, Biden has taken the stance he would not ban fracking on private land, although his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, still supports banning the practice.
Trump played clips of Biden’s past remarks about fracking, a video reel edited to show the Democratic nominee’s contradictory past statements about the natural gas extraction process.
“He has no choice but to ban fracking,” Trump said, declaring that Biden will be forced to go along with Harris and supporters of the Green New Deal. “[This will] deliver an economic death sentence for Pennsylvania, and it affects not just people who frack.”
The crowd loved every second of it. During pauses in Trump’s speech, men could be seen waving their pro-Trump baseball caps in the air. Young children screamed in excitement. After praising Pennsylvania’s Amish community, Trump turned to a group of Amish men strategically placed on the riser behind the stage. The men gave their thumbs up to the president.
Some of the attendees, like Manheim Central Middle School eighth graders Hailey Peterson and Lily Temple, won’t be able to vote in this election – or even the next one. But they came to see Trump at their first-ever rally, decked in face paint, head-to-toe Trump merchandise and flags wrapped around them. They said they have supported the president by marching in local parades, and have long been politically engaged in Republican politics following in their parents’ footsteps.
Hailey Peterson and Lily Temple, who are both 13 and 8th graders at Manheim Central Middle School, said this is their first Trump rally but they’ve supported the president in local parades, etc. “He is doing a better job than any other person with the coronavirus,” Temple said. pic.twitter.com/enGjFwUVia— Gillian McGoldrick (@gill_mcgoldrick) October 26, 2020
“He’s just been bringing it up a step further than obviously our last president,” Temple said. “I just feel he’s doing a better job than other people with the [handling of] coronavirus.”
Ethan Reynolds, 18, skipped a day of school at Conestoga Valley High School to see Trump, getting up at 3:30 to get in line by 4 a.m. He’ll cast his first-ever vote for Trump in person on Nov. 3.
Ethan Reynolds, 18, is skipping school at Conestoga Valley High School this morning to see President Trump. He woke up at 3:30 to be here and was in line around 4 a.m. “I’ll just tell my government teacher I came to another one,” he said of his second Trump rally. pic.twitter.com/0jPCuRQeWO— Gillian McGoldrick (@gill_mcgoldrick) October 26, 2020
“Donald Trump’s truly amazing, truly he’s been making my life better,” said Reynolds, a grocery store employee.
Trump largely avoided the topic of the coronavirus pandemic, except to bash the media for its framing of the virus and China for allowing the virus to spread worldwide. He promised that a vaccine is coming soon, and he mentioned the COVID-19 care he received at Walter Reed Medical Center. The experimental treatment developed by the drugmaker Regeneron made him feel like “Superman,” he said.
The three rallies in Pennsylvania on Monday come amid a resurgence of coronavirus across the state and in most parts of the country. Pennsylvania has reported 1,000 or more new COVID-19 cases each day for 21 days in a row. Its 14-day per capita rate of new cases is at 175 per 100,000 population — which exceeds the rate of 164 at the pandemic’s April peak.
The Biden campaign played up the administration’s failure to control the virus. In a statement emailed to the press, Biden said Trump’s inaction is to blame for Lancaster’s 8% unemployment rate.
“As I told union members and families in Pennsylvania this weekend, as president, I’m going to shut down the virus and safely open up the economy,” Biden added. “Then I’ll stand alongside working communities in Pennsylvania as we build back better by creating millions of good-paying jobs.”
At his Allentown rally early Monday and again in Lancaster, Trump claimed Gov. Tom Wolf had given the campaign a hard time for hosting events of this size while coronavirus remains a serious problem. He also spread a false narrative that Wolf would interfere in the outcome of the state’s election.
Wolf’s office said this is “more of the president’s relentless lies and baseless attacks” and that the governor has only asked the Trump campaign to follow social distancing and masking guidelines.
“Outside of that, the administration has had no contact with the Trump campaign about its events,” a Wolf spokesperson said in an email. “
On more than one occasion in his speech, Trump ran through a list of things he says his administration has accomplished or will continue to do going forward. Loud cheers could be heard when he stressed issues like banning “deadly sanctuary cities” and restoring “patriotic education” to America’s schools.
He saluted several dignitaries seated near the podium, including Rep. Smucker and his colleague from the neighboring 10th congressional district, Scott Perry, as well as Stacy Garrity, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Treasurer, and Chris Cox, the leader of “Bikers for Trump.”
At the end of the speech, “YMCA” by the Village People blasted on the sound system while Trump walked back and forth across the stage, acknowledging people in the crowd and clapping his hands. Within minutes, he was back aboard Air Force One en route to his next rally in Martinsburg.