I visited Richard Schiffrin’s Penn Valley home on Wednesday, but not to spy on a big-money fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Nope. There was no repeat going on there of the Hillary Clinton confab that netted $650,000 some years back.
I was in Schiffrin’s back yard because the old-head, big-money man of Democratic politics in Pennsylvania has been working on something atypical. Something not in the Baby Boomer-era political playbook.
He’s one of the most sought-after Democratic donors, but instead of just writing checks and moving money to candidates, this year he’s looking to bounce Donald Trump from the White House with a taste of Trump’s own Hollywood medicine.
Schiffrin, a securities lawyer who can get governors and presidents on the phone, and whose political donations over the decades are too numerous to itemize here, has been making web videos aimed at persuading women in the Philadelphia suburbs to show up for Joe Biden.
But before I probed too deeply from his back patio in the presence of Schiffrin’s production partner/childhood pal Sandy Cohen Bonner, I had to ask: The debate Tuesday night, what in God’s name did they think of it? I had found the spectacle illuminating only to the extent that it introduced the world to Trump’s Manscream, a new but unimproved version of the Mansplain.
“Trump’s behavior last night was so frightening,” Bonner said, the three of us on an idyllic street just blocks from the lavish estate where the late Inquirer publisher Walter Annenberg lived and that is now owned by Eagles owner Jeff Lurie.
“I thought he was more or less being himself,” Schiffrin retorted in what came across as barely above a low-key murmur. “Blustering, idiotic, angry, paranoid.”
Bonner and Cohen are crafting short online videos aimed at distribution via social media to 100,000 college-educated women in Delaware and Montgomery Counties between now and Election Day. The idea is that a good chunk of this group may finally find the incumbent too disgusting — too frightening, specifically — to keep in office for a second term.
The videos revolve around one catchphrase: Make It Stop.
They are producing the videos largely with the sweat equity of friends and family, and shunning advice from political consultants — a male-dominated world — who believe the messages are too dark.
My advice as a woman in one of the two target counties: Make these videos as scary as you can. Even throw some Freddy Krueger in there. Nothing could be scarier than the reality of life as a woman under the incompetent and cruel thumb of the Trump administration during this pandemic year.
In one of the two videos released so far, white dominoes are shown falling against a black background as Trump’s voice is heard saying some version of, “Relax. We’re doing great.”
Another shows a young girl undergoing an eye exam as a voice asks, “How does the world look to you, Daisy?” A silhouette of Trump flashes before her eyes, then a photo of children in internment camps, then white supremacist protesters holding Ku Klux Klan signs.
“No! No!,” she wails. “Make it stop!”
Schiffrin is paying for this with $50,000 through an independent expenditure committee whose name, Eleventhree, Bonner formed in a nod to the date of the forthcoming election.
“We’re not taking the perspective that Sandy and I are single-handedly going to change the result in this election,” Schiffrin, 67, told me. “But. But. If we do a little bit, and someone else does a little bit, and someone else does a little bit, and you magnify that by tens of thousands ... millions of people ...”
He said his wife, Barbara, sent out 250 postcards that she wrote by hand at the request of the local Democratic Party — also to help boost turnout in some small way. Turnout locally will be key in offsetting enthusiasm for Trump that remains strong elsewhere in the state.
It seems the grassroots activism of far more ordinary Democratic women who grabbed a hold of the state’s hollowed-out party infrastructure after Trump’s win in 2016 is now being copied by the big guns. It was and is women who, so enraged by Trump’s election, entered the political fray, joined party committees, ran for office and now, weeks away, are viewed yet again as key.
Bonner, 65, says she feels a visceral rage about Trump. Like those activists who flipped local, county and state political seats to Democrats every year since 2017, she feels Trumpian values reflect a force within American society that seems intent on undermining the freedoms women have fought hard to win.
She told me about being nine months pregnant on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where she worked for then-Republican Sen. John Heinz, and how childbearing had hemmed in her career ambitions. She has worked in and around politics for years from her home base in Bethesda, Md., and is now a grandmother.
She and Schiffrin are focusing on social media videos because, although it’s a young realm for politicking, it’s where the action is. They are looking to reach women between the ages of 30 and 70 who are likely voters — Democrats and Republicans who voted in the last presidential cycles.
“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the Biden voter protection people in Pennsylvania, and there’s a real concern about what’s going to happen to people when they’re standing in line,” Bonner said. “If you’re a younger mom and you’ve got younger kids at home and you have to stand in line for five or six hours to cast your vote, are you going to stand in line?”
“Is the concept of ‘Make It Stop’ going to make them stand in line?” she continued. "We don’t know.”