MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — At a rally in suburban Harrisburg on Saturday night, President Donald Trump unveiled his pick to fill a third seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, the ultimate “promise kept” for his still loyal supporters who flocked, in their thousands, to see him.
The Saturday evening rally, held in a light rain at Harrisburg International Airport, was just hours after Trump announced federal judge Amy Coney Barrett as his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week.
Besides reiterating his vow to deliver a conservative court, Trump also promised to increase penalties for attacking police, to land a man on Mars, to protect the natural gas industry, and to reform healthcare.
“Pennsylvania will decide whether we end the pandemic, defeat the virus, and return to record prosperity, or whether we allow … [Democratic presidential nominee] Joe Biden to kill the recovery,” Trump said.
The veracity of all of these statements, as is the case with any campaign statement, and a Trump statement, in particular, are up for debate.
For instance, Trump said he’d defend people with preexisting conditions. But his administration is allowing a lawsuit to strike down the Affordable Care Act, and its protections for those with preexisting conditions, to advance unopposed to the high court.
Trump also stoked fears that the election would be stolen, citing without context an example from upstate New York where some Democratic voters received multiple ballots.
The move was deliberately done by county officials in the state’s primary election to properly count votes in presidential and local elections.
Such concerns seemed to resonate with some rally-goers, such as Joe Geary, 68 of New Jersey. He said he could not see a way for Democrats to legally win.
“If the Democrats take this swing, every right will be gone,” Geary said. Trump, he added, was “my hero.”
On a few attendees’ minds — COVID-19. Many did not wear masks, and violated social distancing guidances.
Valerie Cox, 46 of Virginia, was at her first-ever Trump rally. She said she was a little nervous about attending the gathering. But of getting the virus, “if it’s supposed to happen, it’s gonna happen,” she said.
She hoped that the addition of Barrett to the high court would protect gun rights and mean the reversal of abortion access.
Likewise, Luke Angello, 20 of New Jersey, was at his first rally. He said he was excited to be around so many people amid the pandemic.
A waiter, he lost his job during shutdowns, worked in a Costco, and is now back at work.
Angello, who was mask-less, said he thought wearing one should be a personal choice. And looking at Trump’s COVID-19 response, he thought Trump’s light executive touch was the right move.
“I feel like his decision to leave it up to governors is the best thing to do,” Angello said.
As of Saturday, 204,000 Americans have died of the virus. In interviews with reporter Bob Woodward this winter, Trump said he knew the risk of the disease and decided to downplay it to the public.
Trump has rallied at least three times in Pennsylvania in the last three weeks, including outside Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
In a statement Saturday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, decried the rallies as “dangerous and disappointing.”
“Instead of spending his time on rallies, the president should return to Washington and deal with things that matter to Pennsylvanians, like unemployment assistance, state and local aid, hazard pay and a cohesive strategy for pulling the country out of this pandemic as quickly as possible,” Wolf said.
Not that Wolf’s opinion would matter much to the attendees, who at one point briefly chanted “Governor Wolf sucks.”
John Yermalovich, a 55-year-old employed in construction from Lebanon, was part of that chant. He said the shutdowns, which researchers have said saved lives, were a partisan move to tank the economy and help beat Trump.
Looking at Trump and Democrats, he saw a stark choice.
“I’m voting for good versus evil,” Yermalovich said.