AVOCA, Pa. ― In his final in-person pitch to Pennsylvania voters before Election Day, President Donald Trump cast challenger Joe Biden as a puppet of left-wing radicals bent on turning the U.S. into an economically depressed, lawless dystopia.
Although Biden has been a moderate throughout his decades-long career in politics and defeated 23, mostly more progressive Democratic rivals during the party’s primary race, Trump once again lied and distorted the facts about his rival to scare voters into giving him another four years in the White House.
Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, looms as the most likely tipping-point state for the presidency in a close race. Underscoring that status, Trump, Biden, Vice President Mike Pence and the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, all campaigned there on Monday. Most nonpartisan public polls give Biden a clear but not insurmountable lead over Trump.
Speaking to thousands of supporters at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport, Trump went through an almost entirely fabricated litany of horrors that a Biden presidency will visit on the country. The former vice president will “shut down your economy, close down manufacturing, send your jobs overseas, [and] destroy our suburbs.” He will “dissolve your borders, terminate religious liberty, outlaw private health care,” as well as “confiscate your guns ― Second Amendment in big trouble ― and indoctrinate your children with anti-American lies,” Trump declared.
“The anti-American radicals defaming our noble history, heritage and heroes, they support Joe Biden,” the president added. “Antifa and the rioters and looters and Marxists and left-wing extremists ― they all support Sleepy Joe Biden ― Sleepy Joe.”
Regardless of how violent demonstrators plan to vote, Biden has repeatedly condemned looting and rioting.
Trump alleged that Biden has a plan to “abolish, extinguish and eradicate American oil, all fracking and natural gas.”
While Biden’s climate plan calls for getting the United States to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050, he has explicitly ruled out a federal fracking ban, to the dismay of many progressive activists.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D), a close Biden ally, predicted Trump’s attacks would have little impact.
“In terms of getting the people that have traditionally decided statewide elections, especially suburban Philadelphia voters, it’s not very persuasive,” Casey said in a phone interview. He termed the themes Trump harped on “a terrible misreading of suburban voters.”
Casey said he believed that in the populous Philadelphia suburbs, which comprise roughly a quarter of the state’s electorate, Biden could perform at least 10 percentage points better than Hillary Clinton did in losing Pennsylvania to Trump in 2016. Clinton won that suburban vote by 55% to 42%; Casey won it by 62% to 36% in his 2018 reelection.
Trump’s campaign stop in Scranton was intended to fire up his core supporters, who tend to be rural, white and lack a college degree ― and most analysts believe the president needs unprecedented turnout from these voters to win on Tuesday. But Casey said he believes Biden has cut into Trump’s margins in those rural areas.
Trump, perhaps realizing that his caricature of Biden as a fire-breathing radical strains credulity, in his speech sought to paint him as a hapless and senile old man being manipulated by more progressive figures like Harris.
The president said that Harris, who received far louder boos from his crowd than Biden, “is the radical left.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “is, I guess you could say, a conservative, by comparison,” he said. “She’s the most far left.”
And by the way, just so you understand, Joe has no clue. Joe’s not there. He’s not calling the shots. And I guarantee he won’t be for very long. President Donald Trump
Trump, who seemed to relish mispronouncing Harris’ first name as “kuh-MAH-luh,” amplified baseless rumors brewing in right-wing circles that Democrats plan to set Biden aside ― possibly by using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to declare him unfit ― and put Harris in charge. As if to prove his point, Trump played for the crowd a three-minute video of clips ― some of them misleadingly edited ― that show Biden becoming tongue-tied or saying something incoherent.
“And by the way, just so you understand, Joe has no clue,” Trump said. “Joe’s not there. He’s not calling the shots. And I guarantee he won’t be for very long.”
No evidence has emerged that Biden and Harris will have anything other than a conventional relationship between a president and vice president, in which Harris weighs in on internal debates but ultimately takes her cues from Biden.
Harris is also far from a left-wing ideologue. She began her career in politics in 2003 by unseating a more progressive district attorney in San Francisco. The tough-on-crime tactics Harris employed in her years as a prosecutor ― after serving as San Francisco’s DA through 2010, she was elected California attorney general ― made her the target of vicious criticism from the left during her brief presidential bid in this cycle’s primary.
She pivoted to the left just ahead of her presidential bid by embracing policies like “Medicare for All,” but then moved away from that idea just as quickly. As she sought the presidential nomination, she introduced her own plan that would preserve a much larger role for private health insurance than Sanders and other progressives are comfortable with.
Still, by focusing on Harris, who already faces the kind of racist and sexist attacks that women of color endure frequently in national politics, Trump seemed to hit a raw nerve with the crowd.
Several attendees told HuffPost afterward they are more frightened by the prospect of Harris being in charge than Biden.
Mark Fair, a retired forklift operator from Dickson City who voted for former President Barack Obama twice before catching the Trump bug, worries that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will invoke the 25th amendment to remove Biden. The amendment, which liberals sometimes discussed as a potential way to neutralize Trump, allows the vice president to do the president’s job if the president becomes sick or otherwise unable to perform their duties.
Harris is “to the left of Bernie Sanders ― and that’s way left. And Biden ― he’s just a puppet on a string,” Fair said.