On Wednesday, the day that Pennsylvania crossed 10,000 COVID-19 fatalities, Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly gathered at a hotel in Gettysburg to hold a taxpayer-funded campaign rally headlined by the soon-to-be former president of the United States.
Speaking on a cell phone, held up to a microphone by one of his attorneys, and in all defiance of reality, President Donald Trump proclaimed that “we won this election by a lot, we got 74 million votes,” and that “we’re doing well in a lot of states,” as if the election were still going on, and that he had not been soundly thumped by Democrat Joe Biden in the largest popular vote result in American history.
In his most unfiltered public remarks, Trump, who lost Pennsylvania to Biden by 81,000 votes, decried the “horrible things” he believes happened in the Keystone State.
“We have to turn the election over,” Trump said. “This election was rigged and we can’t let that happen. We can’t let it happen for our country. And this election has to be turned around, because we won Pennsylvania by a lot and we won all these swing states by a lot.”
The maskless crowd that packed a ballroom at the Wyndham Gettysburg, which is just a few miles from the historic battlefield, applauded vigorously and broke into a brief chant of “Trump, Trump, Trump.”
It was a performance utterly divorced from reality. And it was a perfect bookend to a campaign season marked by the utter indifference of Trump, and his GOP allies, to the worst public health crisis in a century. Why not go out the door, after all, with one last truth-defying, super-spreader event?
The ostensible purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to discuss voting issues and the future fixes to Pennsylvania’s election code that might be needed to address them.
But any pretense that legislative Republicans were gathered in good faith to talk about weighty policy issues evaporated in the hearing’s opening moments, when Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani stepped to the microphone and declared, without ever presenting a shred of evidence, that the state’s general election was riddled with fraud - something he declined to do just a week ago when he was under oath in a federal courtroom.
The parade of witnesses who followed Giuliani to the microphone repeatedly alleged voting irregularities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state’s two largest cities. But none could provide a single instance of fraud. One witness, in fact, recounted a story that already has been debunked by fact-checkers.
Nor did there seem to be much effort. It was enough, it seemed, as Sen. Doug Mastriano, the conservative rising star who pushed for the hastily convened hearing, to insist that “if there’s any hint of fraud out there, we need to investigate.”
Mastriano, an Army veteran whose district includes Gettysburg, went on to protest, at the meeting’s close that “we need to make sure the real winner is sent forth from this election.”
That would be Biden.
What happened, according to Trump’s own Homeland Security Department, was the the country conducted “the most secure” election in American history, one that resulted in a win not only for Biden, but also for Republicans down the ballot, suggesting not that Democrats were trying to steal the election, but rather that voters had simply tired of Trump and his antics.
There was a lot that the Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s General Assembly could have discussed the day before 10,095 Pennsylvania families steel themselves to gather around the Thanksgiving table without a loved one there with them.
They could have, for instance, discussed ways to deliver badly needed relief to small business owners and others afflicted by the pandemic - something they declined to do last week when they sent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf a budget that spends down the last of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 stimulus funds to backfill state police, corrections officers’ and public health employees’ salaries.
On the day that Pennsylvania charted a grim milestone in a pandemic that only appears to be growing in its fury, that would have been a fine tribute to the dead.
Instead, they used your tax money to hold a campaign rally, and allowed a sad little man to vent over a cell phone about an election he already knows he’s lost.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.