Donald Trump said at least two untrue things in Pennsylvania on Monday. The first was that he would bring back steel manufacturing. The second was that the election was at risk of being stolen by people in “other communities” — specifically, Philadelphia. Trump was making the same claim, really, through two lenses: Everything and everyone is working against him and his supporters.
His comments about alleged wide-scale voter fraud on Monday — comments which, we cannot emphasize frequently enough, are not supported by any evidence — were direct in their implications. In the past, he's said that “certain sections” of the state might commit fraud to swing the results, an obvious reference to long-simmering (and long-debunked) rumors about voter fraud in Philadelphia. On Monday, he simply said it.
“So important that you get out and vote. So important that you watch other communities, because we don't want this election stolen from us,” Trump said in Ambridge, Pa., northwest of Pittsburgh. “We don't want this election stolen from us. We do not want this election stolen.”
Later, he spoke from Wilkes-Barre. CBS's Sopan Deb transcribed:
Honestly, folks, you know I went to school in Philadelphia and I love Philadelphia. I love Philadelphia and I hope we're going to do great in Philadelphia. I went to school there. I love the school. I loved everything but I just hear such reports about Philadelphia. And we have to make sure we're protected. We have to make sure the people of Philadelphia are protected that the vote counts are 100 percent. Everybody wants that, but I hear these horror shows. I hear these horror shows and we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us and is not taken away from us. And everybody knows what I'm talking about.
If anybody doesn't know what he's talking about, we wrote about it when Trump first raised the subject in August. Four years ago, a number of precincts around Philadelphia recorded no votes for Mitt Romney. The places where that happened were, in the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer “clustered in almost exclusively black sections of West and North Philadelphia" — places where most of the residents were members of one of President Obama's most loyal voting constituencies. (Nonwhite voters in Pennsylvania prefer Hillary Clinton by 56 points in a recent poll from Franklin & Marshall College.)
“Other communities” is probably not an intentional phrase from Trump, but it's a loaded one. Those other people. Ambridge and Wilkes-Barre are both three-quarters white. Most of the crowd at both rallies was also white. It was the other communities where there was a problem. Communities that happen to be mostly black. Those communities are going to steal the election from “us.”
A Republican inspector of elections in Philadelphia debunked Sean Hannity on the subject of voter fraud in the city when the Fox News personality raised it earlier this year. Ryan Godfrey pointed out that the Inquirer looked for people in the areas who'd voted for Romney, without luck. Demonstrated in-person voter fraud is so rare as to be a rounding error, both nationally and in Pennsylvania. In a response to a lawsuit submitted when a Republican was governor, the state admitted that voter fraud was nonexistent.
Trump should and could know this, if he cared to. It doesn't serve his interests to believe that voter fraud is a non-issue, and it's very possible he sincerely believes that fraud in Philly will cost him the state. What is likely to actually cost him the race in Pennsylvania is that he's losing badly thanks to slipping support. Multiple recent polls show Trump trailing by double digits in the state. He shouldn't feel too bad; Pennsylvania has voted Democratic since 1992.
Trump should certainly know that the steel industry isn't coming back and wasn't a victim of the policies of Obama. The steel industry in the Rust Belt was gutted in the 1970s and 1980s, with the workforce being cut in half between 1975 and 1988. Earlier this month, an essay in the New York Times explored how the economy of Pennsylvania has evolved in the decades since, expanding service sector jobs and work in technology. The jobs aren't often as high-paying and secure as steel jobs once were, but the economy has changed — as has steel production. Trump himself reportedly uses Chinese-made steel in his construction projects.
Nonetheless: “We're going to bring back the jobs to Pennsylvania,” Trump said in Ambridge. “We're going to bring back steel. Your steel has been stolen from you in this area.”
Just like the election, right?