If there is anything President Donald Trump enjoys more than a rally, it’s a political victory. Tonight in Middletown, Pennsylvania, just outside Harrisburg, he had both. Fresh off his announcement that Amy Coney Barrett will be his historic third Supreme Court nominee, Trump headed to the Keystone State to celebrate with several thousand of his most dedicated supporters.
It is hard to underestimate what a shot in the arm the Supreme Court nomination and the impending confirmation fight has been for the president and his supporters. It is as convincing a conservative victory as the GOP has seen in some time, and it could not have come at a better time. Under gray clouds of impending rain, the crowd braved the skies and the president’s questionable musical tastes — Backstreet Boys? Really? — to see their champion.
Security was tighter than usual — they confiscated my lighter — but I’m not new and obviously had a back-up in my bag. My theory is that the new rule is the result of an incident at the last rally I covered in Nevada a few weeks ago in which a lighter was chucked at the press. The only thing hurled at the press on Saturday night was insults, with “CNN sucks” being a crowd favorite.
About two hours before the president spoke, the music stopped and the big screen displayed the White House where Trump introduced the new justice-to-be to thunderous applause. If there was any question as to whether his supporters were digging the selection, those were put quite to bed.
I caught up to Gary and his grandson Mathias, who were both excited for the announcement. I warned Gary that she is a Catholic, and he laughed and told me he was too. “Pelosi and Biden just think they are Catholic,” he said. Mathias is a college student in Lancaster studying history, so I asked if he was able to learn any real history or just critical race theory. “I’m trying,” he told me.
Nearby, Brian, a local in a bright red Trump hat, was taking in the crowd. I wondered what he made of Old Scranton Joe’s claims that he is a working-class Pennsylvania guy. “I don’t buy it,” Brian told me. “He didn’t start off as a working guy and then become a politician. He moved to Delaware and has been a politician his whole life.”
One possibly inebriated young man wanted to know from where the fake news was. When I told him he was looking at it, he seemed unimpressed. He is convinced much of the nation’s woes stem from the lies the media tell. I’m not sure he’s wrong.
One aspect of the rallies that tends to get short shrift is its down-ballot impact. At every stop, local Republicans get a captive audience before the president speaks. In an election in which many Democrats seem hesitant even to go door to door out of fear of the Chinese virus, people like Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, get a huge advantage from this traditional form of politicking.
One of the special moments of an airport Trump rally is the arrival of Air Force One. It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic entrance, and if it is an unfair advantage of incumbency, then Trump is not shy about using it. The crowd exploded at the sight of it, but not quite as much as they did when he finally took the podium in a drizzle, abandoning his umbrella, and announced Barrett’s name. Trump is not always one to share the spotlight, but tonight he seemed glad to.
Despite some tech difficulties, resulting in chants of “We can’t hear” and “Turn it up,” the crowd was jubilant, and Trump even seemed to raise his own generally loud voice in response. Nothing seems to dampen Trump’s parties.
Donald Trump is always up for a rally, but tonight he was truly on fire. With the Senate votes apparently in place for an absolutely transformational Supreme Court appointment, he knows that win or lose, his legacy as a conservative president is secure — but this was not a man who looked like he was planning to lose. And from the reaction he received, these Pennsylvanians smell victory.