In Pennsylvania, Trump fans cheer his 'excellent choice' for the Supreme Court

Sunday - 27/09/2020 09:06
Daryl Bernard, a 55-year-old sales representative in the medical industry, drove to the rally from Maryland with his two daughters. Amy Coney Barrett 'would be a great role model for my girls' he said. © Colin Kinniburgh
Daryl Bernard, a 55-year-old sales representative in the medical industry, drove to the rally from Maryland with his two daughters. Amy Coney Barrett 'would be a great role model for my girls' he said. © Colin Kinniburgh
At Donald Trump’s first rally after nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the US president and his supporters alike touted the new nominee but mostly stuck to familiar campaign themes.

On Saturday, as Donald Trump announced from the White House that he was formally nominating federal judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat, thousands of his supporters tuned in from an airport parking lot just outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There, they were waiting for the US president to make his next stop: one of his signature campaign rallies, which have lately shifted to mostly outdoor, airport settings due to Covid-19.

Within minutes of arriving on stage, Trump lauded Judge Barrett’s credentials.

“Judge Barrett is a brilliant legal mind and extraordinary scholar,” he said. “Number one in her class… And most importantly, she will defend your God-given rights and freedoms, she will.”

The rally attendees FRANCE 24 spoke to all supported Trump’s pick.

“I think she’s a really excellent choice. She seems to be highly qualified,” said Amy McLane, a 57-year-old resident of nearby Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “She’s a conservative, I’m a conservative, and I think she’s made it clear that she wouldn't allow her faith values to interfere with legal decisions… that’s really important.”
 

At the Donald Trump rally in Middletown, outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 26, 2020
At the Donald Trump rally in Middletown, outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 26, 2020  © Colin Kinniburgh


McLane, who worked most of her career in radio, calls herself an independent and said she voted for Barack Obama before turning to Trump in 2016. She found herself “disappointed” with the former president and signature policies like Obamacare, which will appear before the Supreme Court in oral arguments just a week after election day.

Republican attorneys general who brought the case hope a decision could strike down key parts of the Affordable Care Act, essentially overturning the largest US healthcare reform since the 1960s. Barrett, in a 2017 law journal article, called the reasoning that led the Supreme Court to uphold Obamacare in 2012 and 2015 “illegitimate”.

Waiting for Trump to speak at the rally, McLane also said she hoped Barrett, if confirmed, would oppose abortion: “That doesn't necessarily mean I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, but I do support life over abortion,” she told FRANCE 24.

Fellow attendees Erica Cappabianco, 40, and Karen Richard, 43, also ranked abortion as a top reason for backing Trump and his appointee. The two women, both healthcare workers in neighbouring Pennsylvania counties, were attending the rally with their sons.

“We help bring babies into the world, not to take them out, and that’s really a huge sticking point,” said Richard, who works as a midwife.
 

Erica Cappabianco and Karen Richard attended the rally with their sons.
Erica Cappabianco and Karen Richard attended the rally with their sons.  © Colin Kinniburgh


Daryl Bernard, who had driven to the rally from Maryland with his two daughters, likewise admired Barrett’s appeal to family values.

“That would be a great role model for my girls,” said Bernard, a 55-year-old sales representative in the medical industry. “Mother of seven, multiple races, somebody who is juggling all the responsibilities of home and a career and serving your country as well.”

“What she really believes in is our Constitution and not the political whims of society,” he added.

‘Flag burners, rioters, anti-police radicals, and anarchists’

Few of the Trump supporters FRANCE 24 spoke to, however, listed the Supreme Court as a top issue. Instead, they, like the president, stressed the campaign’s core themes: jobs, “law and order”, ending illegal immigration and generally battling what they describe as the Democrats’ “radical left” agenda.

“Joe Biden has surrendered his party to the flag burners, rioters, anti-police radicals, and anarchists,” Trump said from the podium, amid his familiar roster of jibes at “Crooked Hillary,” “Crazy Bernie”, and Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among other opponents.

When asked what brought he and his family to the rally, Noah Cappabianco immediately replied: “One, I don’t believe in democratic socialism.”  

Jennifer, another Trump fan who gave only her first name and said she was attending from her home in “small town” central Pennsylvania, about an hour north, said the main issue influencing her vote was the “literal destruction of America”.

Jennifer, left, fears Democrats seek the “literal destruction of America”.
Jennifer, left, fears Democrats seek the “literal destruction of America”.  © Colin Kinniburgh


“We need to keep America on the right path, instead of letting it be destroyed, which is the left’s ultimate plan.”

Republicans ‘know how to play the game’

At the entrance to the airport parking lot, as tour buses and pickup trucks loaded with “Make America Great Again” paraphernalia trundled in, a handful of Democratic supporters waved Biden signs in protest.

“I am here because I think Trump is an immoral lying killer,” said Kathleen McCormack, 76, who came from the outskirts of Philadelphia. “I want him out of the White House.”

Trump’s nomination of Barrett, McCormack said, is “going to be a terrible thing for a generation of young women who need abortions and who can’t get them”.

“I feel it’s complete hypocrisy [given] what they did in 2016 to Merrick Garland,” she added.

Her partner Ray Simpson, also 76, agreed.

“If the Supreme Court sits at 6-3 to the right it will be hard to get anything good done. We are likely to lose healthcare,” he told FRANCE 24. “Healthcare should be a human right. You should not die because you have less money than somebody else.”
 

Anti-Trump protesters Kathleen McCormack and Ray Simpson outside the rally.
Anti-Trump protesters Kathleen McCormack and Ray Simpson outside the rally. © Yona Heloua


Cari Frye, a 65-year-old caregiver living in the suburbs of Harrisburg, recognised that for all her disagreements with Trump’s agenda, his partisans largely outnumbered Biden’s in the area.

“This is a very strong Trump territory,” she told FRANCE 24. “I was pretty confident that… the more people would see” the results of the policies coming from the White House, the more they would call them into question. “But then I come here and we’re all like, ‘This is scary.’”

Campaign staff at the event declined to provide a figure for how many people were attending the rally, but a Secret Service agent said capacity was between 10,000 and 11,000. With the indoor hangar area largely empty, that capacity appears not to have been reached, even as Trump boasted of an audience in the “tens of thousands… somebody said 17-18,000”. Still, in the outdoor area surrounding the podium, the largely maskless audience was packed tight.

“That’s the one thing about Republicans I give them credit for,” said Frye. “They know how to play the game.”

Lasting consequences 

Barrett’s nomination is a telling case in point. As much as they criticise the Republicans for cynically reversing their own precedent in rushing through a Supreme Court confirmation just weeks before an election — with Barrett’s nomination coming even before the late Justice Ginsburg is buried on Tuesday — Democrats simply do not have the votes to block Trump’s pick.

That means, as Trump bragged at the rally, that Judge Barrett could soon become his third Supreme Court justice, along with a near-record 217 other judges appointed to the federal bench over the last four years.

“That’s huge for the long term for America,” said Brian, a 53-year-old electrician attending the rally from the nearby York-Lancaster area.

Indeed, Barrett’s nomination could have far-reaching consequences not just for pivotal issues like abortion and healthcare, but for the election — and the future of American democracy — itself.

Trump was less than 10 minutes into his roughly 80-minute speech when he began riling up supporters with claims that Democrats in several states were trying to “steal the election”.

“The only way they can win Pennsylvania is to cheat on the ballots,” Trump said, to jeers.
 

US President Donald Trump speaking to supporters outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 26, 2020.
US President Donald Trump speaking to supporters outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 26, 2020.  © Colin Kinniburgh

 

In recent weeks, Trump has increasingly, and without evidence, cast mail-in voting as a source of widespread fraud in order to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. At a White House press conference on Tuesday, he went further, refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election.

“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” Trump said.

If it goes through the courts, a Trump campaign challenge to mail-in voting could end in a Supreme Court battle like Bush v. Gore, the case that ultimately handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush. With at least two, and potentially three, justices on his side, along with the court’s three other conservative justices, such a case could swing the election decisively in Trump’s favour, even if he wins less votes. Biden continues to lead in the polls, both nationally and in key battleground states.

On the stump outside Harrisburg, though, as a light drizzle continued to fall, Trump said he hoped the election wouldn’t go to the top court.

“All I am asking,” he told the crowd, “is people go out to vote, go out to vote, and stop with this nonsense.”

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