PIPERSVILLE — Picture 300 mostly white people who all look like they left work a little early to indulge in a late summer round on the country club’s back nine gathered instead in a warehouse. With a vice presidential candidate.
That’s what a Mike Pence rally in Bucks County looks like.
The Republican vice presidential candidate and Donald Trump’s No. 1 surrogate held a kind of sparsely attended rally at Worth and Co., a manufacturer on — wait for it — Applebutter Road in Pipersville today. That’s basically in the middle of Bucks County, which has been identified as one of the top 25 battleground counties in the country.
Pence, the Midwestern conservative Christian and Indiana governor expected to help Trump deliver the evangelical vote, swooped in after getting a nationally-streamed haircut in Norristown where the barber didn’t know who he was. He rolled out to the classic rock song “All Right Now” by Free (which just happens to be about casual sex). Pence told a few personal stories, and then he went in on Hillary Clinton, who the AP reported scheduled more than half her meetings as secretary of state with people who donated to the Clinton Foundation.
“Hillary Clinton should shut down the Clinton Foundation right now,” Pence said, “and the Obama administration should appoint a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of what happened at the Clinton Foundation.” A chant of “lock her up” broke out.
But Pence’s event lacked a certain … je ne sais quoi that we’ve seen (personally!) at rallies for his running mate. Instead of 20,000 screaming concert-style fans in a massive venue, it was a few hundred quieter voters. While Pence has defended Trump’s message, he admits the two have a different style. There wasn’t a mention of Obama founding ISIS. There wasn’t talk of deporting Muslims based on their religion. And missing from the Pence rally was, well, the fire of a Trump rally — the fire that’s been criticized for being fueled by part racism, part intense nationalism.
The last Trump rally we covered was in April at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Besides taking place on a pile of literal dirt, the rally was attended by thousands and came at the height of Trump-mania, just after the mogul’s big primary win in Pennsylvania. It was when all everyone was talking about was the violence taking place at Trump rallies across the country.
At the time, the media — which was kept in a press pen during both the Trump rally and the Pence rally alike — was at the point where we were meticulously counting the number of anti-Trump protesters being thrown out of the rally, just waiting on one of them to throw a punch or get slugged on the way out. Things were tense. Protesters clashed with Trump supporters after the rally, standing in lines feet away from each other flinging accusations of racism on one side; screaming to “get a job” on the other.
And as much as clothing choice can set the tone of an event, the Pence rally was notably different from Trump’s. The Trump rally in Harrisburg was dotted with NRA gear, attire mentioning Benghazi and special T-shirts that read “This is America. We speak English.” But none stood up to the “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica” shirts being sold for $20 outside the venue. On the back? They read “Trump That Bitch.”
Those who attended the Pence rally today were decidedly more tempered. There was a lot of collared shirts and blazers. A lot of women in patterned work wear and mostly people who looked like they were either retired or left work early today. I counted 34 people in plaid. And yeah, there were dozens of those iconic red baseball caps. I saw literally one dude in a quasi-offensive T-shirt.
But the biggest difference between the two rallies? Yelling. And anger.
It was hard to hear at the Trump rally. Sure, there were thousands of people there compared to the Pence rally, which drew a few hundred. But everyone at Trump’s more candid event was yelling, whether it was loudly cheering for their candidate of choice, chanting USA (!!!!!) at every possible opportunity or breaking into thunderous applause at the mere mention of building a wall or *utterly obliterating* ISIS in fantastic fashion.
That didn’t really happen today for Pence, save for one kinda scream-y guy who happened to be the same person wearing that single kind of offensive T-shirt. There was a chant of “Lock her up!” and a single “U-S-A” chant. The Trump pride was there, but it wasn’t angry, and it wasn’t blaring from every attendee’s mouth. Some spectators talking to press didn’t want to share their names because they didn’t want their neighbors finding out they were voting for Trump.
And before Pence took the stage, Bucks County Commissioner Robert G. Loughery was emceeing and asked the crowd: “What are we going to do?” clearly expecting some sort of response. “Make…. America… Great Again…?” they seemed to collectively ask. Loughery doubled down. And the crowd quite literally mumbled back to him Trump’s slogan: “Make America Great Again.”
Pence went on to give fleeting mentions of building a wall and eliminating the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism,” but the majority of what he said was the veep candidate’s typical stump speech: He told the story of when Trump called and asked him to be his running mate. He emphasized the importance of Pennsylvania in the upcoming election.
And — as if to drive home the difference between the Midwestern governor and his fiery, ratings-obsessed running mate — just before he wrapped up, Pence said he’s dismayed at the electoral process, saying it’s been too focused on “what divides us.”
“It seems like the politics of this time is always about division,” he said. “It’s almost as if America has been reduced to a cable TV talk show, where every time there’s a conversation it’s about what we differ on and not what unites us.”