Donald Trump didn’t unveil any of his famous nicknames for Democratic foes in Erie on Wednesday night. He didn’t need to.
In an hour-long rally appearance before thousands gathered in the Erie Insurance Arena, Trump called Democrats “the party of crime” and a “radical mob.” When he wasn’t touting the strong economy – for which he said his polices deserved credit – he warned that Democrats were “going to try and take it away.” He said their treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanuagh was “a national disgrace,” and claimed “Democrats support a socialist takeover of healthcare that would totally obliterate Medicare.”
He characterized Republicans, meanwhile, as “the party of law, order and justice,” and said they “want to protect Medicare for our great seniors … And we will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions."
The rally was the latest in an effort to rile up a Republican base whose energies, at least until recently, were widely seen as flagging in the face of Democratic anger over Trump’s presidency. Fact-checkers and Democrats alike have sharply questioned some of Trump’s claims.
The “Medicare for All” Trump has attacked, for example, has mixed support from Democrats, and the Trump administration itself is challenging legal protections for people with pre-existing conditions in court. And Democrats like Senator Bob Casey – who Trump has previously nicknamed “Sleeping Bob” – counter Trump’s claims by arguing that the Republican tax cuts of last year will run up deficits of more than $1 trillion. Those shortfalls, they warn, may ultimately threaten the viability of programs like Medicare.
Trump’s Erie visit was the latest appearance on behalf of Republican midterm candidates nationwide. He praised gubernatorial hopeful Scott Wagner, Senate contender Lou Barletta, and area Congressman Mike Kelly. Polls suggest that Kelly faces a more competitive re-election fight against Democrat Ron DiNicola than many expected. Wagner and Barletta, meanwhile, have lagged Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Casey in fundraising and public-opinion surveys.
Trump had an answer for such concerns Wednesday night, however.
“I believe in polls, only the ones that have us up, because they’re the only honest ones," he said. "Other than that, they’re the fake news polls."
Erie has played a critical role in Trump’s rise, and he held a rally at the same venue in August of 2016, railing against foreign trade arrangements and pledging to help the steel and coal industries. He went on to win the county by just under 2,000 votes in 2016 – reversing years of Democratic wins including a 19,000-vote margin posted here by Barack Obama in 2012. That swing went a long way toward cementing his win in Pennsylvania, and the national election.
This year, Erie figures large in any hopes for Wagner and Barletta to topple Democratic incumbents. And Trump was particularly tough on Casey.
“How do you have such a liberal guy in the state of Pennsylvania?” he asked, before supplying his own answer. “Oh, he’s banking on the name of his father, that’s no good. Which is why he need to be voted out of office.”
Casey’s father was a former Pennsylvania governor. Casey himself previously served as state Auditor General and state Treasurer before becoming a two-term Senator. But about the only accomplishment Trump would credit him with was having “joined the left-wing mob by voting against Brett Kavanaugh,” his pick to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Kavanuagh was confirmed by the Senate last week despite controversy over allegations of sexual misconduct. Casey opposed the nominee even before Trump named him. Noting that Trump had selected his nominee from a list pre-approved by outside conservative groups, Casey said the entire process was a “corrupt bargain” struck with corporations and interests groups.
But Republicans believe the Kavanaugh fight has galvanized their own voting base. In his own remarks to the crowd, Barletta said,“If you don’t like the way that Justice Kavanuagh has been treated, then you can’t reward Bob Casey by sending him back to Washington ever again.”
Trump wasn’t always on the offensive. While hailing Kelly as “strong on crime, tough as hell on borders, [and] powerful on trade,” Trump recognized his efforts to improve Erie’s popular state park on Presque Isle.
“We’re going to dredge the channel to Lake Erie and we’re going to replenish the sand to Preque Isle,” Trump pledged before joking, “Mike keeps calling: ‘Sir, we want to fix up Presque Isle.’ I said, ‘Mike, what the hell is Presque Isle?'"
Much of Trump’s speech tread familiar territory, as he reminisced repeatedly about his 2016 win, and how surprised pundits and the media – toward whom he directed the audience’s ire on several occasions – were by it. He and other Republicans who spoke, including Kelly, cited a list of positive economic indicators which demonstrate a strong economy, with historically low unemployment rates, by almost every measure.”
It may, however, have been Barletta who had the crowd’s favorite line of the night, as he mentioned the black quarterback who started protests of police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem at NFL games.”
“This economy is so good that even Colin Kaepernick found a job,” he said.
With the Dow Jones stock index having lost more than 800 points earlier in the day, Trump did not mention the stock market, whose meteoric rise he often touts. And the news hasn’t all been great in Erie.
When Trump visited the city in 2016, he referenced layoffs that had taken place at the General Electric locomotive works nearby.
“They think they’re going to take our companies and rip them out … and go to Mexico,” he said at the time. “That stuff isn’t happening anymore.”
Less than one year later, GE announced it would shut down locomotive production entirely, sending more jobs to a non-union facility in Texas. But if there were any hard feelings about that in Erie, they weren’t on display among the boisterous crowd on Wednesday night. Indeed, unlike at many other Trump rallies, not a single protester disrupted the event.