Rod Lewis stood with his cane in a field in Bucks County for six hours today. A disabled veteran proud to show off his American flag tattoo, the Bucks County resident was in line to see Donald Trump speak in a converted warehouse in Newtown — even as the Republican presidential candidate is staring down what some say could be a landslide loss.
But Lewis, and the other several thousand people who came to see Trump’s third rally of the day, is steadfastly supporting Trump. He’s convinced the election is rigged against him. Lewis sees the everyman in Trump. He sees someone who’s working to listen to “the people.” Someone who will provide for veterans, crack down on illegal immigration and defeat ISIS.
“The asshole in the White House can’t even say ISIS. He calls it ISIL or something else. What it is? It’s terrorism,” he said, then pivoting to immigration. “I actually don’t want a wall… I want to set up our gun systems and go one bullet at a time.”
Lewis was first in line for the event, the first of thousands. Many sweaty, maybe a little drunk and definitely skeptical of the media — one volunteer refused to tell me where the entrance was and walked away when I told her I was a reporter. People in line said they refuse to believe polls that shows Trump floundering. They definitely think the election’s been rigged.
The crowd of about 2,000 was a mix of locals and folks from around the region, some of whom were slugging beers at the pool facility before the event began. T-shirt vendors dotted the long line to get in. They were selling shirts with phrases like “Hillary for Prison,” “Deplorable Me” and “Bomb the shit out of ISIS.”
Trump arrived a half hour early for reasons unknown and gave his usual stump speech, save for a few local mentions. He brought up the fact that he went to Penn. He vowed to “rebuild” the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He urged the attendees to vote. If they don’t, he said, he “wasted time, energy and money.” Also he hugged an American flag.
There was also decidedly more vitriol toward the media at this rally than others I’ve attended the past. Trump told the crowd to “look at them,” referring to the media pen in the back of the room, and his supporters turned and began a protracted chant in my direction. One man next to the media pen was scolded by a Trump official for screaming “assholes” at us too many times.
This all was happening 10 miles outside Philadelphia city limits, the place that’s arguably at the epicenter of Trump’s election-rigging theories. The candidate who hasn’t committed to accepting the results of the election if he loses has repeatedly implied voter fraud may take place in Philadelphia on Election Day causing Democrat Hillary Clinton to win Pennsylvania.
Trump has urged his supporters in Pennsylvania to closely watch the polls. One grassroots group is already planning to conduct “exit polls” is certain voting divisions in Philadelphia. In response, Philadelphia is planning its largest-ever Election Fraud Task Force. No one I talked to at today’s rally had any plans to come to Philly and create a hostile situation on Election Day. But many said they don’t believe that Trump could reasonably lose — just look at the massive crowd.
“Do a poll online. Ask people on Facebook,” Lewis said. “Thousands of people watch these rallies on Facebook. The media is not stopping people.”
Nationally, Trump is sliding in the most recent polls and took a public opinion hit two weeks ago when a 2005 Access Hollywood tape was released. Since then, 10 women have come forward saying Trump sexually assaulted or harassed them. Experts have said his debate performances have been among the worst in modern American history. And last night, he was booed during a charity dinner in New York for taking his roast of Hillary Clinton to a whole new level.
A look inside the Newtown Athletic Club Sports Training Center doesn’t tell that story. Instead, it was thousands of people — and thousands more who couldn’t get in — who crowded a facility normally reserved for sports and started a “lock her up” chant two hours before the event was scheduled to begin.
Kathy Hahn, administrative assistant from Newtown, waited in line for several hours today to catch a glimpse of Trump. She said she doesn’t believe the polls, and is convinced the election is rigged in Clinton’s favor. Kathy Verrecchia, a Republican committeewoman in Bucks County who was with Hahn, said the national media peddles lies that suburban women don’t support Trump. She said she does, because otherwise she’s “scared” for her future grandchildren.
“They’re trying,” she said, “to sway younger women.”
A Fox News poll last week showed Trump’s support among suburban women declined 10 points over a week span.
The latest presidential poll in Pennsylvania showed Clinton leading Trump by six points. Two other recent polls showed her leading by four and nine points, respectively. Those numbers aren’t much different than how Trump was polling before the Access Hollywood tape was released. The last time Clinton and Trump were close in the polls was June.
Now, the conversation has shifted to Election Day. For several months, Trump has peddled unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud in places like Philadelphia and is now pushing conspiracy theories about a rigged election.
Nicole and Michelle Mumme, sisters from Bucks County who lined up early to see Trump, said they monitor polls in Bucks County and are concerned about voter fraud and election rigging in Pennsylvania. Nicole, a 25-year-old accountant, said people have made jokes at polling places about attempting to vote twice because Pennsylvania doesn’t require presenting an ID to vote. She said she’ll assume election-rigging was involved if Trump loses by a landslide.
“We’ll see how it turns out,” she said. “If the results look ridiculous, then there’s a problem. “
Alex Zenin, who drove from Oldbridge, N.J. to attend the rally, was less convinced. He said though he has friends who don’t believe the polls, Zenin thinks Trump losing is “a possibility.” He blamed a corrupt media and Clinton. The computer programmer immigrated to the United States in 1991 to escape the Soviet Union. He said the United States is heading down a path of bribery similar to Russia and, without an outsider stepping into the White House, will fall corrupt.
And though he was initially concerned that Trump praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Zenin has been convinced otherwise.
“Trump is saying,” he said, “America first.”