MANHEIM, Pa. — This small town is nestled in the rolling hills where America’s urban coast begins to give way to the heartland. Yet at a Halloween party thrown by President Trump’s campaign here on Wednesday night, those dividing lines were cut deeper. Among his supporters here, Pennsylvania Dutch country isn’t simply a distinct region. It’s an entirely different nation.
Trump’s people see the borderlines. Cynthia Lane, a blond woman from a small Philadelphia suburb, explained that the president’s America has different television networks.
“I think that what we are hearing on one news station and what we are hearing on another are completely different news, so we aren’t living in the same country,” she said.
Lane and her friend Joyce were wearing matching pointed hats and handmade T-shirts that declared they were “good” witches for Trump. She explained that the costume signaled her view that the impeachment inquiry is an “ongoing witch hunt.”
Trump’s America has its own view of impeachment. While polls show that almost half the country — including over 10 percent of Republicans and about 46 percent of independents — supports impeachment, everyone in the crowd at Wednesday night’s event who spoke with Yahoo News viewed the investigation as a grand conspiracy.
The recent history of this part of Pennsylvania shows the fault lines that have erupted around the country since Trump narrowly won the 2016 election. He was sent to the White House by the Electoral College thanks to key battleground states like Pennsylvania. Much like the rest of the country, the state has deep internal divisions. Trump’s victory was largely owed to rural areas. The state’s three biggest cities all went for Hillary Clinton. Here in bucolic Lancaster County, Trump was ahead by nearly 20 percent. Overall, he won Pennsylvania by a little over 44,000 votes. That slim margin ensures the state — which went to the Democrats in 2012 — will be hotly contested in 2020. And the result may depend, in part, on how voters view impeachment.
The impeachment inquiry was the theme at the event in Manheim. It was billed as a “Halloween Witch Hunt Party” in the Trump campaign’s online invitation. The bash was held in a small conference room at a cavernous facility that featured a hotel, rock walls, basketball courts, batting cages and various other indoor sports fields. Tickets were free, but the crowd that came still filled only about half the space in the room.
Attendees were treated to bright orange jack-o’-lantern editions of the president’s trademark “Make America Great Again” hats and speeches from four stars of the unique Trump media ecosystem. The Trump-loving YouTube personalities known as Diamond and Silk kicked off the event with a standup routine of sorts that included quips about impeachment and mocking Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate who is five years older than Trump, for being old enough to need “Social Security.”
“Are we all on the Trump train?” Diamond asked. “When I say ‘all aboard,’ you say ‘choo choo!’”
“Choo choo!” the audience roared on command.
Mercedes Schlapp, Trump’s former White House communications director, and her husband, Matt, a veteran conservative activist, were up next. The Schlapps explained that they’d come from Washington, D.C.
“We apologize because we live amongst the swamp creatures,” Matt Schlapp said.
The Schlapps, who purchased a $3.1 million home 15 minutes from the U.S. Capitol last year, suggested they like it much better in Trump country than in Washington.
“We had to get in our car and drive,” Matt said. “We love being out here, by the way. It’s beautiful.”
“God’s country,” Mercedes added.
The pair went on to explain that Trump’s America is a place under siege. First and foremost, there’s the threat of impeachment coming from Washington, where the Schlapps have lived and worked for decades.
“What’s going on with impeachment up there on Capitol Hill, by the way, it’s not really impeachment,” Matt said. “It’s like everything in Washington. … It’s fake. … It’s not real. This is phony impeachment. … There is no crime.”
Mercedes went on to explain that the good people of Trump country are also being menaced by socialism.
“It is very clear that the Democrats are out to threaten our families, threaten our faith and threaten our country,” she said, adding, “They want ultimate control and power. … It is a radical, radical agenda.”
Barbara Morris, a gray-haired woman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who wore a gold sequined mask under her pumpkin Trump hat, described the speakers as “wonderful.” But before offering her review of the event, she warned Yahoo News that she might not see the writeup.
“I’ll never hear none of your reports because I’m way up in the other area,” Morris said.
While she doesn’t follow much national media, Morris had heard of Diamond and Silk and said she also enjoys a local radio host.
“We have a great radio announcer, Frank Andrews, and he interviewed them today,” she said of Diamond and Silk. “I was here. I missed the interview, but I saw them live. But yeah, we have Frank Andrews, wonderful announcer.”
Andrews is a former Democratic politician turned conservative broadcaster who took to the airwaves in 2017 and has gone on to interview multiple dignitaries from Trump’s America. Andrews’s predecessor at the radio station has claimed he was fired for opposing the president.
There are those who will tell you media outlets never deign to visit Trump country. That’s not true, but there are tight restrictions on where the press can go in Trump’s America. While the president’s supporters were allowed to enter and leave freely, the reporters who were also invited to cover the event needed an escort.
“It’s a whole thing,” a Trump campaign volunteer said by way of explanation.
Once inside, reporters were roped off at the back of the room and prevented from photographing the stage or moving freely through the crowd. One photographer complained to campaign staff that the setup prevented him from taking pictures of the speakers.
Fenced-off press pens are a ubiquitous feature at Trump’s rallies, but this was a small event with no officials requiring Secret Service protection. When asked why the media was roped off, a staffer said, “That’s what I was told.” The staffer also said the speakers would come speak to the press. They did not. The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about why media access was so restricted at the party.
Even with the limitations, reporters were able to speak with members of the crowd who came to the back of the room. Many of them shared the Schlapps’ view that their nation is under threat.
A man named Dan Carlisle, who had a long white beard and matching Trump hat, said he believes Democrats are killing newborn babies, and that Trump’s biggest accomplishment is “protecting our babies that are being killed in the womb even up to the day of delivery.”
Carlisle, who was accompanied by his sister, appeared to be referring to comments that Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam made in January, when he described a situation where a family and doctors might choose not to resuscitate a newborn baby that was experiencing difficulty. While Trump and other conservatives have cited this as infanticide, Northam’s spokesperson said he was “focused on the tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe abnormalities went into labor.”
But Carlisle said he knew Democrats were killing babies because he saw it on Fox News, the favored channel in Trump country.
“I watch a lot of Fox,” he said. “But that’s exactly what took place.”
And that’s not the only brutality Carlisle believes is threatening his nation.
“The Democrats, antifa, that kind of thing, they like to express their violence at a lot of different public events, and it’s going to get worse,” he said, adding, “We’re going to take our country back. … We’ll definitely dominate them.”
And when it comes to impeachment, Carlisle said, Trump country is ready to fight for its leader. “They’re not going to remove him. We’re not going to allow it to happen,” he said.
“They’re going to have to exterminate us, because it ain’t going to happen.”
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