President Trump’s visit to Pennsylvania Thursday wasn’t technically a rally — but you’d never know that by talking to Republican officials and voters in the Delaware Valley.
Trump’s stop at an Owens & Minor distribution center didn’t celebrate the manufactured steel of Allentown’s past, but instead praised the city’s present-day drive to contribute during the coronavirus crisis.
“Since February, you have deployed an amazing 1.75 million N-95 respirators — you make them now yourselves — 3.4 million gowns, 80 million gloves and much more. And on behalf of our nation I want to thank you, because you’re making America proud,” the president said.
Trump announced a new stockpile initiative for future crises, “as our country begins a safe and gradual reopening.”
“Our effort begins by dramatically increasing our reserves. Instead of one to three week’s worth of supplies — we had less than that — the U.S. government will now stockpile three whole months, much of it made in the U.S.A.,” Trump told the gathering of socially distanced warehouse workers.
Although most of the president’s remarks were focused on manufacturing, local GOP officials feel as though the Pennsylvania stop helped boost their ongoing battle with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is keeping a tight grip on shutdown orders, especially in the southeastern part of the state.
The president didn’t mention Wolf’s name but did call him out.
“Next year is going to be through the roof,” Trump said about the nation’s economy. “We have to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening up a little bit. You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected, but they [the Wolf administration] wants to keep them closed.”
Montgomery County Republican Chairwoman Elizabeth Preate Havey said enthusiasm in the lead up to the visit was high based on the number of calls she fielded from people hoping to get into the event — a request that can sometimes be finessed for a campaign rally, but not for official White House business like Thursday’s event.
“I think it’s very smart for Trump to come in here,” Havey told Delaware Valley Journal, adding that she thought the weight of the coronavirus crisis was beginning to bear down on Wolf.
“Most certainly, Wolf has been criticized in the last few weeks about his shutdown, about the lack of transparency on the waiver process, about health department secretary Levine of her handling — or mishandling — of nursing homes,” she said.
“Had we protected our nursing homes better, I think we’d be reopened sooner, our death rate would be significantly lower.”
Earlier in the week, Spotlight PA reported that Pennsylvania created a vigorous plan to protect nursing homes at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, but then failed to implement it.
Democrats were excited about Trump’s visit too, if in a different fashion.
“With Donald Trump in Allentown today, we’re expecting a new wave of attacks and disinformation against Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine,” a fundraising email from the state Democratic Party said.
Bernadette “Bernie” Comfort, chair of the Pennsylvania Trump campaign, said she too, fielded numerous calls from Bucks, Delaware and Chester counties’ voters hoping to find a way to somehow see the president.
“My phone has not stopped ringing, the emails, since the news broke that the president was coming,” Comfort said.
She downplayed the idea that the appearance was any kind of chess move against Wolf.
“I think today’s visit was really about highlighting what America does best, which is take care of each other,” Comfort said, pointing to new government efforts to create private-public partnerships to generate the materials needed in the fight against COVID-19.
“But I do think that the president certainly is wanting to — like most Americans’ and certainly Pennsylvanians’ voices that are being heard — that they want to get back to life as normal as safely as possible.”
Wolf has faced pressure from Democratic-controlled county boards in Bucks and Delaware counties in the last two weeks who have feared they will remain in the tightest shutdown mode unless the governor reassesses his metrics.
The governor has also had to address some municipalities and counties that have threatened to reopen on their own timetable.