Betting on Pennsylvania

As the race for the White House continues apace, our man on the road - Jonn Elledge - reports on the

Anyone going to their mailbox in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, the other day was in for a nasty shock: a flyer featuring a picture of a foetus with a rope around its neck. Beneath it was the caption: 'Obama won't stop this.'

No prizes for guessing who that came from.

The diner waitress who told me this story was horrified, but probably not for the reasons the Republicans would like. 'What if someone who'd been through that saw it?' she asked. What if some kids did, someone added.

This isn't the only nasty ad to pop up in the state this week. A (now unemployed) Republican staffer sent an email to some of the state's Jewish community warning them against 'making the wrong decision.' 'Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake,' it said. 'Let's not make a similar one this year!'

Godwin's law, alas, doesn't apply in elections. Nonetheless, such tactics suggest a certain panic on the Republicans' part.

John McCain is betting everything on Pennsylvania. It looks like a long shot - it hasn't gone Republican in 20 years, and polls show him 10 points behind. But it would allow him to add 21 electoral votes to his column, while focusing on a single part of the country. And it would slash the swing he needs everywhere else to get him to victory. This, one suspects, explains the decision to throw everything he's got at the state.

Despite the polls, it might just work. The state has been Democratic largely because of the areas around Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west. But there's a big rural chunk in between that's far more friendly to Republicans.

And there are also questions over how comfortable the state is with the idea of a black president. Last week Congressman John Murtha got in trouble for announcing that his constituents were racists. The Obama campaign in Erie, in the north west of the state, have twice had to remove roadside signs reading "Vote right, vote white"; more than one voter has told them straight out that they won't vote for a black candidate. And the Obama supporting waitresses in Dunmore speak of a mysterious man known only as "pork chop guy", who told a diner full of people that no one who isn't an old white man would ever get his vote.

There are some signs that such prejudice is a luxury people can no longer afford - this anecdote is a nice, if unrepeatable, example - but the Dems aren't taking any chances. Cathi Zelazny, who's running the campaign in Erie, is planning to flood the polling stations with lawyers to ensure no one is denied their vote on a technicality. And if she has to, she says, she'll physically drag people to the polls. "If Obama loses because we lost Pennsylvania," she adds, "I'll have to leave to state."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.

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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism