ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump went to Hershey, Pennsylvania, with a few scores to settle hours after House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment they appear poised to pass next week.
For more than an hour, Trump railed against House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a throng of supporters inside the Giant Center booed, cheered and laughed — depending on the insult of the moment. He dubbed Schiff a “dishonest guy” and a “crooked bastard” and claimed the speaker has “absolutely no control” over a caucus that has lurched dramatically to the left.
The president dropped false statements about a Justice Department inspector general report released earlier this week that found the agency’s 2016 probe of his campaign was riddled with errors but not driven by political biases against him. He also lied about a White House-produced summary of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, saying it was “word-for-word transcribed.” That summary features a disclaimer that it does not capture every word spoken by the two leaders.
As he had about two hours earlier while chatting briefly with reporters on a cold and damp White House South Lawn, the president panned Pelosi and Democrats for rolling out their impeachment articles then soon after announcing they had struck a deal with his administration on the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade pact that would replace NAFTA.
“They announced impeachment and then an hour later she announced that she's going to do USMCA,” Trump said mockingly. “You know why it's a huge deal? It plays down the impeachment because they're embarrassed by the impeachment and our poll numbers have gone through the roof because of her stupid impeachment.”
Polling data released this week shows voters in key battleground states now siding with the president over impeachment — and Trump and his team are mostly focused on a handful of swing states. One is Pennsylvania. Here are three takeaways from his unplugged Hershey rally:
House Democrats spent Tuesday saying they only needed two impeachment articles because, in large part, they opted for the two most serious charges any sitting commander in chief could face: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Republicans “don't have evidence to rebut either the assertion of abuse of power or obstruction of Congress," describing their effort to hide behind process as indicative of their inability to defend Trump against the charges. "If you have neither the facts nor the law, you pound on the table,” he said.
Trump tried to water down the articles — or, at least, moderate and swing voters’ perception of them.
“People are saying they're not even a crime. What happened? All of these horrible things — remember bribery and this and that? Okay, where are they?” Trump said, again with a mocking tone. “They said these two things are not even a crime. This is the lightest, weakest impeachment.”
As he is poised to join Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton as the lone presidents to be impeached — both were acquitted by the Senate — Trump tried branding the articles as “impeachment lite.”
Keystone is key
The president made his 2020 strategy clear, referring to “swing states” and noting their importance to securing a second term. He talked up the economy, contending “here in Pennsylvania, you had this single best year that you've ever had in the history of our country, not bad.”
“The Pennsylvania unemployment rate has reached an all time record low,” he said before trying to draft the audience into his clash with House Democrats. “There’s only one way to stop the rabid, partisan Democrats, Pennsylvania voters might show up in 2020. So we can take back the House, hold the Senate and keep the White House.”
Patrick Murray, director of polling at Monmouth University, said “Pennsylvania is probably an easier pickup than Michigan and Wisconsin, where rural areas are a higher percentage of the vote.”
“In Pennsylvania, urban areas are two-thirds of the vote. One reason polls were incorrect in 2016 were we got the two-thirds right, but Trump won that remaining one-third by bucketload,” Murray said. “A lot of people in that one-third didn’t want to talk to pollsters about supporting Trump — and they probably still don’t.”
Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia said “there is a tendency to fixate on greater Philadelphia when analyzing Pennsylvania, but Trump carried the state by performing pretty well in many places outside of southeast Pennsylvania — and Pittsburgh.”
“Dauphin County, where Hershey is located, is also home to the state capital, Harrisburg. Trump lost the county, but he did a little bit better there than Mitt Romney did [in 2012],” Kondik said. “Trump sometimes seems to go to places that are solidly in his corner, but this is more of a visit to a county that is a battleground.”
Trump returned to the Keystone State for the fourth time this calendar year as part of an effort to hold Pennsylvania come next November, a state he won narrowly in 2016 when he beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 48.2 percent to 47.5 percent. Which party takes it in 2020 likely will come down to how about a dozen light red or blue counties fall in under 11 months.
That is part of the president’s and his campaign team’s effort to rebuild as much of the 2016 Electoral College map. That means he needs to hold Pennsylvania and as many states like Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio as he can in a race to 270 Electoral votes.
Do something Democrats?
Trump dropped some familiar phrases, like “witch hunt” and “hoax.” Another, “fake news,” got three drops. “Alfred E. Neuman,” his nickname for youthful South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was back as the former Navy intelligence officer’s Democratic presidential campaign gains steam. (“I dream about him,” Trump claimed, suggesting he think he would easily defeat Buttigieg in a head-to-head race.)
But one was missing. Trump did not dub the congressional opposition party the “Do Nothing Democrats” as he has for months. Instead, he boasted about the trade pact with Mexico and Canada they are poised to approve. And the list of things Democrats are doing didn’t stop there.
“We've also just reached a deal with Congress to invest a record $738 billion more into our great military,” he told his supporters.
Both parties will claim victory over the trade agreement and anything they can portray as helping the troops and their families just before the holidays. The president painted them as mostly his feats while the House Democrats claimed they doesn’t worry about handing Trump and Republican wins going into an election year.
“I certainly wouldn’t miss an opportunity because the president is the occupant of the White House. If he has collateral benefit, so be it,” Pelosi said Tuesday.
“What I hope it is is a win for the American people,” Rep. Madeleine Dean told CNN Wednesday morning. “It shows we are doing what it is we are sent here to do. We have to do it all.”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.