MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Hours after naming Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his choice to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump reminded hundreds of supporters at a Pennsylvania rally that he won the state four years ago and vowed to win “by a lot more" in November.
“The only way they can win Pennsylvania is to cheat on the ballots, that’s the way I look at it,” Trump said, renewing a claim he’s often made, although election experts say evidence of voter fraud is exceedingly rare.
Speaking to a crowd filling a hangar outside the Harrisburg International Airport, Trump spent barely a minute savoring the opportunity to nominate a third Supreme Court justice in his first term, a nomination likely to sail through the Republican-controlled Senate. He called Barrett “a brilliant legal mind and extraordinary scholar” and told the crowd she will “defend your God-given rights and freedom.”
By contrast, he said, "the far left will pack the Supreme Court with radicals” who would overturn the Second Amendment, strike the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, protect sanctuary cities, and declare the death penalty unconstitutional.
“We will save your Second Amendment and together we will save our country,” Trump said to cheers.
As a light rain fell, the president then fell during the nearly 80-minute appearance into a routine script of themes, complaints, and attacks — including criticism of Bill and Hillary Clinton, FBI agents, President Barack Obama, and U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
He also repeated the false assertion that Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, has vowed to ban fracking — “that’s not good for Pennsylvania” — and claimed Biden would cut Social Security and institute socialized medicine.
Trump also warned that a Biden presidency would bring a “massive” tax increase, increased interest rates, and the country’s worst-ever economic depression.
“We will crush the virus; our opponents will crush America,” he said.
The rally, just over five weeks from Election Day, comes four days after Trump made a campaign stop in Pittsburgh. He’s increased his visits to Pennsylvania, a critical state he won by just 44,000 votes four years ago and where, despite his predictions, the Republican president has consistently trailed Biden in polls this year. The two are scheduled to meet Tuesday night in the first presidential debate.
Gov. Tom Wolf had urged the president to cancel the event, citing public health concerns associated with the spread of the coronavirus.
Wolf, a Democrat whose attempts to restrict the size of outdoor gatherings was ruled unconstitutional this month by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, said holding the campaign event was “misguided” and “dangerous,” and asked Trump to “put the health of his constituents ahead of his own political fortunes.” In July, Wolf ordered people to wear face masks in all public places where people cannot stay reasonably apart.
Trump’s campaign said all attendees would have their temperatures checked, be provided face masks, and be encouraged to wear them. Some wore them, others did not. The riser behind the president was filled with supporters wearing red and blue MAGA face masks.
The rally also comes at the end of a week in which Trump took the extraordinary stance of refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. He continued to make baseless claims that the election would be rigged because of an increase in the use of mail ballots during the pandemic. Trump this week also seized on a news release from the Justice Department that said prosecutors were investigating the handling of a handful of mail ballots — including some cast for him — in Luzerne County, Pa.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Thursday that the U.S. has “not seen historically any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
Still, Trump returned to the topic Saturday night, telling his supporters: “Get out there and vote. And keep your eyes open if you see any shenanigans, which you probably will.”
He also revisited his law-and-order platform, accusing Biden of surrendering the Democratic Party to “flag burners” and “rioters” and warned of a “war on cops.” A police union official then took the stage with the president and thanked Trump, saying: “You, sir, have never turned your back on us.”
The crowd erupted in chants of “Back the Blue.”
That theme was one that appealed to Tristin Goode, a financial analyst who drove to the rally with friends from her home in Somerset County, N.J.
“We need law and order; we can’t have this anarchy,” Goode said.
Trump, she said, "cares about this country. He gave up a billionaire lifestyle with a supermodel wife because he saw this country needed to be saved.”
Goode was among hundreds who came early to the event, packing the hangar to get seats close to the stage and watch a big screen that broadcast Trump’s Supreme Court announcement from the White House Rose Garden.
Evelyn Conahan, 74, said she was “thrilled” by Trump’s selection of Barrett.
“I know she’s conservative. She values life,” said Conahan, a retired insurance salesperson from Hanover Township, Luzerne County. Conahan and her friend, Suzanne Gillis, a retired nurse, both wore face masks bearing Trump campaign logos.
“He just wants what’s best for our country,” Conahan said of the president. “I pray for him every night. He’s being attacked from all sides.”