MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Many of the people in the packed crowd who gathered to see President Trump’s rally at the Pittsburgh International Airport on Tuesday night were excited for the looming Supreme Court fight, while also expressing fears about recent protests over racial inequality that have swept the country.
On stage, Trump vowed that, on Saturday, he would name a conservative justice following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal stalwart. Cindy and Suzanne Schollaert, a pair of sisters from Pittsburgh, stood near the back of the crowd waving signs distributed by the Trump campaign that said, “FILL THE SEAT.”
“I think it’s excellent and I think they should move lightning fast,” Cindy said of Trump and the Republican Senate majority’s plans to push forward with the confirmation.
Talking to Trump’s supporters at the event provided a snapshot into the concerns animating the president’s base in Pennsylvania, a key swing state where polls show Trump’s Democratic Party rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, ahead by an average of just 3.8 points, which is within the margin of error.
Within hours of Ginsburg’s passing, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated he planned to hold a vote to confirm Trump’s nominee, once announced. Replacing Ginsburg with a Trump pick would give conservatives a solid six-to-three majority in the nation’s highest court.
McConnell’s position is a reversal from 2016 when in an unprecedented move he refused to allow a confirmation vote for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia. At that time, McConnell said he didn’t believe the Senate should confirm a justice in the lead-up to an election.
Garland was nominated about 10 months prior to the end of Obama’s term.
Now, with the election less than six weeks away, and a possible change of administration just four months away, McConnell has changed his tune. That turnaround didn’t appear to bother the Trump supporters at the president’s rally.
Jim Kohler, a retired Marine veteran from Pittsburgh, said he was “totally delighted” by the prospect of Trump appointing a replacement for Ginsburg. He predicted Democrats would similarly use a Senate majority to pack the court.
“It’s just such a crazy game, the politics, because if the shoe was on the other foot ... the other side would be doing the same thing,” Kohler said of the Democrats.
Frank Huchrowski, a software engineer, also described Supreme Court confirmation battles as a game and said waiting for the election would be “a stupid thing.”
“You have the majority in the Senate, you go for it. It’s like two seconds to go in the game and you don’t shoot the ball because you don’t want to take advantage of it,” Huchrowski said.
Huchrowski also indicated he was eager to see a conservative Supreme Court majority cemented due to the possibility of a Biden victory.
“Just in case you lose, we need insurance, another good Supreme Court member,” he explained.
A number of those who attended were also focused on the protests that have taken place in cities around the country since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in May. While the demonstrations have included peaceful calls for police reform and racial justice, they also have been accompanied by riots and looting in some cities, and Trump has violently cracked down on the unrest with federal officers.
The president has made tying Biden to the unrest a centerpiece of his campaign. During his speech in Pennsylvania, Trump referenced viral scenes of Black Lives Matter protesters disrupting people as they ate meals in Pittsburgh earlier this month, a message that resonated with the crowd.
Cindy Schollaert said she was scared by the recent clashes.
“I watched the MLB people attack innocent diners in our downtown Pittsburgh area,” she said, misstating the acronym for the Black Lives Matter movement. “It was frightening to me because Pittsburgh is a peaceful town. … If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
Cindy’s sister, Suzanne Schollaert, blamed liberal billionaire George Soros for orchestrating the protests. Soros, who has donated to a slew of progressive causes around the world, has long been a bogeyman for the right wing.
The widespread protests following Floyd’s death led to a surge in social media posts and ads from conservative groups suggesting Soros is financially sponsoring the demonstrations, though there is no evidence to back up these claims. Nevertheless, Suzanne said she is certain Soros is involved.
“I really believe George Soros and his ilk are behind it,” she said. “I think they’re very well trained. I think they’re very well organized and I think that we need to stop it.”
While the Trump supporters were extremely concerned about protest violence, they were far less worried about the coronavirus pandemic, which has now caused killed more than 200,000 Americans. The massive, packed crowd at Trump’s rally was an apparent violation of Pennsylvania’s social distancing regulations designed to prevent the spread of the virus that prohibit outdoor events with audiences of more than 250 people. Many in the crowd were not wearing masks, which are also required in the state. After halting his signature rallies at the start of the pandemic, Trump returned to hosting large events in June. Many of the president’s recent rallies have appeared to be clear violations of local social distancing rules. While Tuesday night’s rally and some of Trump’s other recent events have taken place on airport tarmacs that are mostly outdoors, he has held some indoor events, which experts say are far riskier. Trump’s first indoor rally after the pandemic, which was held in Tulsa, Okla. in June, was later linked to a surge in new coronavirus cases there by local officials.
From the stage in Pennsylvania, Trump mocked Biden for wearing a mask and having smaller events that are in compliance with social distancing rules.
Sophia Rose, who attended the event with her children, wore a mask halfway over her face. Rose said she believed the illness is far less serious than has been indicated and accused hospitals of falsely inflating the death toll to receive funding earmarked for coronavirus cases.
She cited numbers promoted in a widespread social media hoax suggesting a small percentage of the reported deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, were really attributable to the virus. “I think that there were people with COVID,” she said, “but most of them, they were not, and people who died from accidents or something they were written down as COVID.”
Huchrowski, the software engineer, echoed comments made by Trump earlier this week when he claimed the virus affects “virtually nobody” and is dangerous only to the elderly and infirm.
While older people and those with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control, as of Sept. 12, people under the age of 50 accounted for over 30 percent of coronavirus hospitalizations this year. But Huchrowski said he is confident the pandemic is only an issue for “old people people with bad conditions.”
“I’m healthy,” said Huchrowski, who was maskless at the event. “If you’re healthy and work out, eat right, get your sleep, you don’t have to worry about it.”
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