Trump Energizes Voters At Rally In Pennsylvania
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Although polls have narrowed recently, they do show that President Trump is trailing former Vice President Joe Biden nationally. And notably, he is trailing him in most key swing states. But rather than trying to win over skeptics, the president spent last night talking to his base in a big rally in Latrobe, Pa. NPR's Scott Detrow spent the day in Latrobe and is with us now. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: What was the scene like? What was turnout like? What was the rally like?
DETROW: You know, it felt like a pre-pandemic scene - a huge overflow crowd, I should say, minimal, if any, COVID precautions. The president was in a good mood, happy to be there. It really felt to me like the rallies that were a hallmark of Trump's campaign in 2016. But I went to a lot of them then. And to me, this crowd seemed even more intense about the president, more devoted to him than what I saw four years ago.
MARTIN: But does that tell us how much support he actually has in Latrobe?
DETROW: This is a place where he beat Hillary Clinton by more than 30 points. He has deep, deep support here. And that just stood out to me when I drove around town in the pouring rain seeing how many Trump signs were all over the place.
Trump 2020. Trump/Pence. There's a sign that says pro-life, pro-Trump.
And dwarfing all those signs, the red, white and blue Trump house.
AMY TAYLOR: First off, outside, there's what? A 100-foot tall Trump...
TAYLOR: ...You know, statuette outside, which is really cool. A lot of people can get their picture taken next to it. There's Biden in the basement.
DETROW: It's become a kind of pilgrimage for Trump supporters like Amy Taylor (ph), who's visiting it despite the pouring rain before heading to the rally. The cut-out of Trump does seem huge. But really, it's only about two stories tall. Like many people here, Taylor says her support for the president has only grown since 2016. She says she got it from her parents.
TAYLOR: They're all about the Trump. And they raised me kind of, like, to, you know, follow in their footsteps. And they're just, like - they taught me the ways of Trump and the ways the Republican Party has done good for America.
DETROW: The rain lets up, which gives the parking lot outside the rally a tailgate feel.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Happy birthday to you.
DETROW: Mike and Sarah Sever (ph) are set up with a tent, coolers full of beer, lawn chairs and flags.
MIKE SEVER: Basically, he kept all his promises...
SARAH SEVER: Yeah. Promises made, promises kept.
M SEVER: ...Amongst so much resistance from the Democrats, which I firmly believe hate this country.
S SEVER: They do.
DETROW: Here, Biden is a villain, a puppet of the left. Trump is a hero even when his trade policies sometimes hurt dairy farmers, like Mike.
M SEVER: We'll do our part. We'll do our part when it comes down to it.
DETROW: Trump has spent the bulk of his presidency catering mostly to the core of the base, the voters who never leave his side. That's led to approval ratings that have only rarely even come close to 50% and almost half of the electorate telling pollsters there's no way they'd ever consider voting for the president this fall. Still, Trump sees his base in places like Latrobe as the way to win a second term. His campaign thinks they can get even more core supporters to show up than 2016.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think we're way ahead of what we were four years ago. And there's far more enthusiasm. Our base is bigger. It's stronger.
DETROW: The approach has a lot of risks - among them, the fact that this base is relatively limited.
MIKE MIKUS: Look; if I'm him, I'm not going to Latrobe, you know? I'm going to suburban Pittsburgh. I mean, Latrobe's Westmoreland County, which is a - has been for 30 years (laughter) a bright-red county.
DETROW: Mike Mikus is a western Pennsylvania Democratic strategist. He points out Trump's big problem, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, is cratering popularity in the suburbs. A lot of last week's Republican convention was meant to win some of those one-time supporters back. Last night, though, Trump was back to playing the hits for the base - among other things, making fun of Biden for wearing a mask.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: Did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him?
TRUMP: And then, he makes a speech. And he always has it - not always, but a lot of times, he has it hanging down.
DETROW: Trump minimized the pandemic and blamed Democratic governors for overly cautious approaches. He has a sympathetic audience in Sara Sever.
S SEVER: Like, I'm not OK with that. I mean, I'm anti-mask totally. Like, I am not scared of a virus.
DETROW: Several people at the rally falsely suggest the virus is man-made or that scientists are holding back a vaccine, that it's all part of an attempt to undercut the president. Even among the Trump supporters in Latrobe who don't think this, there's still an overwhelming sense the president has done a good job on the coronavirus. That includes Amy Taylor, who tells me back at the Trump house that she'd lost her job as an aerobics instructor because of the pandemic and is still unemployed.
TAYLOR: First off, has there ever been a pandemic to take over the world like this in such a short period of time? I think that Trump did the best that he could, considering the circumstances.
DETROW: Inside the bubble of the Trump rally in a Trump city, he's handled the pandemic well. Among voters as a whole, masks have broad support. But Trump has gotten increasingly negative reviews as the U.S. death toll approaches 200,000 and millions remain unemployed. Trump is betting that first narrative is what wins out in two months.
MARTIN: That's NPR's Scott Detrow reporting from Latrobe. Scott is still on the line with us. I want to ask about a report out in The Atlantic magazine, which portrays the president as someone who, for years, has said very disparaging things about the U.S. military. Can you tell us more about what's in there and now how the White House is responding?
DETROW: This is a story that said that the president just fundamentally doesn't understand the sacrifices these soldiers make and walk through several moments where these sources said he criticized or blamed soldiers who died in war, question The point of even fighting in one. He allegedly, at one point, said a cemetery filled with the dead from World War I was, quote, "filled with losers." As you mentioned, the president has forcefully denied this. He spoke to reporters at the end of this trip and said, quote, "I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes." But remember, he made similar comments about John McCain being shot down at the very beginning of his presidential campaign back in 2015.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Detrow in Latrobe, Pa. Scott, thanks very much.
DETROW: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.