Donald Trump attends a Bucks County fundraiser and a rally in Lehigh County in battleground Pennsylvania

Anthony R. Wood, Aliya Schneider and Jesse Bunch, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

Former President Donald J. Trump told thousands of supporters at a campaign rally in Lehigh County on Saturday night that Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel was a symptom of U.S. “weakness” and would never have happened if he were still president.

“God bless the people of Israel; they’re under attack right now,” Trump said, adding that neither the Iranian nor the Oct. 7 Hamas assaults would have occurred “if we were in office. You know that. They know that. Everybody knows that.”

He brought his campaign to the Keystone State just two days before jury selection begins in Manhattan for what he called a “communist show trial,” the first of four criminal prosecutions he is facing.

Trump’s remarks to the enthusiastic crowd, which endured chilly gusts to 30 mph, came a few hours after he attended a fundraiser in Bucks County, where he was greeted by hundreds of flag-waving supporters. Both areas are battlegrounds likely to be critical to his chances of recapturing the White House.

In Bucks County, those who couldn’t attend the invitation-only fundraiser with tickets starting at $2,500 stood behind police tape outside the Newtown Athletic Club and cheered as the motorcade drove by. However, it wasn’t clear in which car Trump was riding, and many of the supporters appeared to be disappointed that they couldn’t catch a glimpse of him.

A smaller group, some with smartphones poised for video, had similar luck when the cars left the club about 5:15 p.m., although two women said they saw Trump flash a thumbs-up behind the tinted windows of one of the cars.

In any event, Kelly Ruhfass, 60, of Newtown, wearing pink lipstick and a matching jacket, said she was thrilled to have come there. “It’s good to come and be around like-minded people,” she said, “because we feel so strongly about what’s happening in this country.

“It gets us excited about what’s coming.”

Trump won Pennsylvania, a critical swing state, by a membrane-thin margin in November 2016 and narrowly lost to Democrat Joe Biden four years later. Although Trump already is the presumptive Republican nominee, the April 23 primary may hold clues to the depths of his Republican support in the state.

On Saturday night, he clearly was preaching to the choir. He invoked the case of Danilo Cavalcante, who escaped from Chester County Prison in late August and was on the run for two weeks. Cavalcante is an undocumented immigrant who fled to the United States because he was wanted in a 2017 homicide in his native Brazil.

Cavalcante, 34, had been sentenced to life in prison for stabbing his former girlfriend dozens of times in front of her two children in 2021.

Trump said that Cavalcante’s presence in the United States was an example of Biden’s failed immigration policies and said he would secure the nation’s borders.

After speaking for nearly one hour, Trump ended his rally with another local reference, this one to George Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge. He said that a nation that had “lost its way” will “soon be a great nation again.”

Biden, who has been averaging nearly a trip a month to Pennsylvania, plans to visit Democratic strongholds in his native Scranton and the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions for three days staring on Tuesday.

Before Trump’s arrival at the club in Lower Bucks, a caravan of Biden supporters looped around the club and the office of U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. However, the road leading to the club entrance, which was lined with Trump supporters, was closed to traffic so the two groups did not have an opportunity to interact.

Pennsylvania Democrats hold about a six-percentage-point registration advantage over Republicans, according to the most recently available state data, but about 15% are registered as unaffiliated or “other.”

Biden and Trump have polled extremely closely in state surveys, with the most recent Franklin and Marshall poll showing Biden with a two-point lead, which was within the poll’s margin of error.

Bucks County is a battleground within the battleground, with nearly 475,000 registrants — the fourth-highest total in the state — with Democrat/Republican totals split almost evenly. It is the Philadelphia region’s only purple county.

The Newtown fundraiser was hosted by several longtime GOP donors, including Jim Worthington, owner of an athletic club who defied COVID-19 closures in 2020.


Sylvia Johnson, 84, a Bucks County local who attended the fundraiser, said Trump spoke for about an hour. ”The feeling in the room was the warmth toward him,” she said. “We just love him. It’s something he has that no other politician has.”

It was unclear whether Fitzpatrick, a self-described moderate Republican who represents the area and has a history of dodging questions about Trump, attended the fundraiser. Fitzpatrick has not yet said whether he will endorse Trump this year.

The pro-Biden caravan that circled his office was organized by Indivisible Bucks County, a local chapter of a national progressive group. The group aimed “to push back against the hateful MAGA rhetoric,” said organizer Kierstyn Zolfo.

After the fundraiser, Trump headed to Lehigh County for a rally at the Schnecksville Fire Hall in North Whitehall Township.

Bill Bachenberg, a millionaire Trump donor who lives outside of Allentown and was involved in trying to overturn the 2020 election, evidently helped organize the event. According to the Lehigh Valley News, Bachenberg’s popular clay target shooting center rented out the fire hall for Trump’s rally.

The county’s GOP chair told the Lehigh Valley News that organizers are expecting more than 6,000 people at the outdoor rally off Route 309.

While Democrats hold about a 60-40 edge in registrants in the county, the Lehigh Valley is considered a swing region. It’s also home to a large population of Latino voters, a group that Trump and Biden are courting.

The rally crowd swelled in advance of Trump’s arrival, as stiff winds blew through a sea of MAGA flags and thin blue line flags hoisted from pickup trucks and flag poles.

“He’s the best one to do the job — he just did everything right,” said Tina Hafer, who traveled from Reading to attend. “In my lifetime, there’s been no president as good as him. The economy, the border, everything.”

Said Republican Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity, who addressed the crowd: “Every election that goes by that we don’t get Republicans in office, our state and our country get closer and closer to being lost.”

Paula Ireton brushed aside concerns over the former president’s impending hush-money criminal trial and other legal issues. “I believe they’re all politically motivated to keep him off the ballot, or put him in jail, strip his money and businesses, it’s all political,” she said.

Trump’s visit to Pennsylvania also came as his comments on abortion are in the spotlight — and as Democrats seek to seize on the issue.

Trump has expressed myriad views on abortion in the past, from saying in 2016 that women seeking abortions should be punished— a statement he later backtracked on— to suggesting last month that he would support a national abortion ban around 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Trump said in the last week that he doesn’t support a national ban and that the decision should be left to the states.

He also said Arizona’s law that criminalizes almost all abortions goes too far, but defended the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“Trump poses an existential threat to abortion rights in Pennsylvania,” U.S. Rep Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., said in a statement Saturday.

Citing Trump’s comments on abortion and his efforts “to overturn the last election and destroy our democracy,” Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro said in a statement that “ Donald Trump’s record and agenda are too dangerous and extreme for Pennsylvania.”

©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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