Gettysburg, Pa.—To kick off the final leg of his campaign, Donald Trump went to the high-water mark of the confederacy.
The candidate spoke to a ballroom of supporters in the Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center in Gettysburg, a few miles from the battlefield where Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered a devastating defeat that turned the tide of the Civil War. After invoking Abraham Lincoln, Trump talked up the perils of voter fraud and then promised to sue the women who have accused him of sexual impropriety––you know, just like Honest Abe did.
The Republican presidential nominee has spent the past 48 hours barnstorming through a state he will probably lose, as part of a last-ditch effort to reverse a slide in the polls that looks irreversible. The campaign seems to be operating under the assumption that if Trump name-checks Abraham Lincoln enough, African American voters will forgive him for saying their lives are so awful that they have nothing left to lose.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani—a loyal Trump surrogate who has asserted that it is normal for men to cheat on their wives—opened for Trump by touching on Gettysburg’s history.
“It took a long time to heal the wounds and right the wrongs of slavery,” the former New York City mayor said. “Some still remain and must be healed.”
Then Trump, America’s would-be healer-in-chief, took the stage.
“President Lincoln served at a time of division like we’ve never seen before,” Trump began, reading from a teleprompter. “It is my hope that we can look at his example to heal divisions we are living in right now. We are a very divided nation.”
Trump’s recipe for healing said divisions includes fearmongering about voter fraud and boosting conspiracy theories about the evils of corporate media. The system is rigged, he argued, citing data from a Pew Charitable Trust report on dead people who are registered to vote. He cited the data correctly, as FactCheck.org notes that he has done before. But it doesn’t show what he claims it shows; Pew argues that we need to update our voter registration systems, not that millions of dead people are secretly voting. And analysis after analysis has found that voter fraud has zero impact the outcome of major elections—much the less the presidential election.
But even if the Clinton campaign was engaged in unscrupulous election-rigging, they wouldn’t need to do it in Pennsylvania; Trump hasn’t led in a single public poll there since July. That may be due to the fact that he’s focused his campaign on amping up tornout in the rural center and southwest regions of the state, where there are high numbers of white voters without college educations—the demographic that loves him best. The problem with that strategy is that there aren’t enough of those voters to swing the state for him. Terry Madonna, who runs the Franklin and Marshall College poll, said he finds Trump’s messaging perplexing. The mogul has centered his campaign on appealing to workers who have lost manufacturing jobs and fear increasing globalization. What Trump hasn’t done is try to appeal to voters living in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties—the four major suburban counties around Philadelphia that a candidate basically has to win to take Pennsylvania. About 20 percent of the state’s voters live there, Madonna said, and Trump needs to court them if he wants to win.
“These are all places where you simply have to do well, because the numbers are there,” Madonna said. “They’re simply too big to write off. And Trump is literally making no appeals to those voters at all, and I don’t know how you win our state without doing that.”
And he sure didn’t do that in Gettysburg. Instead, he went on an extended riff about how much he detests the women who have come forward over the past few weeks to say he sexually harassed or assaulted them.
“Every woman lied,” he said flatly.
“All of these liars will be sued after the election is over,” he added.
Of course, those lying liars couldn’t have lied without the help of Trump’s most-reviled foe: the media. And the media wouldn’t be as evil as it is if not for the source of all ills: globalization. He channelled Bernie Sanders, decrying AT&T’s move to purchase Time Warner Inc. (which owns CNN) as indicative of too much power consolidation on the part of the corporate media.
“Deals like this destroy democracy,” Trump said, without noting if he has any particular beef with AT&T.
He said that if he becomes president, he will try to block the deal. But much of the damage is already done, he continued. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post, Comcast’s ownership of NBC Universal––all evidence that the system is rigged against Donald Trump. Or something.
“They’re trying to poison the mind of the American voter,” he said.
But Trump didn’t just sound Sanders-esque during his Pennsylvania swing; he also sounded suspiciously similar to Larry David’s SNL parody of the Vermont senator. During a campaign stop in Johnstown, Penn., the day before, Trump bemoaned the state of American roads and bridges.
“My plan will also help Pennsylvania upgrade and replace bridges in the Commonwealth that have been deemed structurally deficient,” he said. “So many of them.”
Then he said this:
“You almost don’t want to ride across,” he said, clearly joking. “Does anybody ever want to swim and just relax? Know you’re going to be alive?”
The audience laughed. It was a funny joke—funny enough for Larry David to have sort of made it last November.
“We need to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure,” David said on SNL, playing Sanders. “It’s crumbling. That’s why I no longer drive on bridges or through tunnels. It’s too risky. Instead, I keep a kayak strapped to the top of my car.”
Our nation’s infrastructure isn’t the only thing crumbling; Trump’s campaign is facing substantial wear and tear as well. But instead of reaching out to the suburban swing voters, Trump’s first priority should be pushing media conspiracy theories and calling women liars. He has probably reached the high-water mark of his campaign.