AMBRIDGE, Pa. — The morning after the vice-presidential debate, Cathy Frasca woke at 5 a.m. and hand-wrote a four-page letter to Donald Trump that said: “It is obvious that you could easily lose this election.”
The 89-year-old grandmother urged Trump to release his taxes, ignore the controversies that Hillary Clinton tries to start, stop tweeting at 3 a.m. and remember that “Bill Clinton is not running for election, so please avoid using precious time to discuss his sex life.” Instead, Frasca wrote, Trump should tell voters about how he will improve the country.
“You know what to do but time is running out,” she wrote in closing. “My prayers are with you always.”
As Trump bounces from one controversy to another and Hillary Clinton gains in the polls, there is a growing realization among some of his most devoted supporters that he could lose the election. They still hope he will win, as the idea of another President Clinton angers and scares them. They blame the Republican Party for not doing enough to support its nominee, the media for focusing on comments Trump made years ago and Democrats who, they say, rigged the system. But they also place a little blame on Trump.
As Frasca watched the second presidential debate Sunday night, she was glad to see that Trump seemed better prepared and that he apologized for his “toilet talk” in 2005 when he told an “Access Hollywood” host that he could grope women and force himself on them sexually because he was famous. She was delighted to hear Trump tell Clinton that she should be in jail, but she didn’t understand why he dragged along women who have accused former president Bill Clinton of sexual assault or harassment.
On Monday morning, Frasca put on a yellow T-shirt featuring a screaming Hillary Clinton, flames and the message, “Liar! Liar! Pants suit on fire.” She and a few friends from her retirement community in Sewickley traveled a few miles north to a high school gym in this suburb of Pittsburgh for a Trump rally. Frasca brought along a copy of the letter she mailed to Trump Tower, just in case she got to meet the candidate.
At rallies like these, Trump can live in a world where he is still winning. He was introduced as “the next president” and greeted by a screaming crowd of 2,500 while, he said, “thousands and thousands” more waited outside. There were no polls showing Clinton with a double-digit lead, no debate moderators grilling him on the Syrian conflict, no party leaders telling him to tone it down. Here, Trump declared himself the winner of the debate, berated the media and attacked Clinton without any interruptions from fact-checkers.
Crowds like these are Trump’s case for not dropping out of the race. Crowds like these are his evidence that he can still win. Crowds are his polls.
But Trump has already won these people over, and if he wants to win the election, he has to dramatically broaden his following.
Outside the high school, a few dozen union workers and protesters gathered. One man held a sign that said, “Trump is a sexual pervert.” Three young women chanted: “Trump’s unfit!”
Jamie Young, 49, watched the commotion from a friend’s porch. She voted for Trump in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary and went to five of his rallies — and is now embarrassed that she did.
“The tipping point for me was this last video — it’s like, enough is enough. Enough is enough. I’ve had it,” said Young, an airport worker who now plans to write in Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee. “I believed that he was tough and he had a set — but his set is a little too big.”
Clinton supporter Marlene Monza, 65, brought along a mannequin dressed in a suit and wearing bright lipstick, along with a sign decorated with hearts: “This is the presidential look that has my vote!”
“This contest is not so much between him and her, it’s gender-based, because if we had a Democrat who was a 90-year-old man in a wheelchair on oxygen he would be 90 points ahead of Donald Trump right now,” said Monza, who remembers being asked at her first job interview if she had a boyfriend and, later, not being able to get a credit card in her own name.
Her friend Joan Verner, 73, almost started crying as she looked at a line of Trump supporters stretching more than a quarter of a mile. Verner brought along two black cats — Halloween decorations turned into political statements about Trump’s crude boast on the 2005 videotape about grabbing women “by the p---y.”
“I cannot believe all of the derogatory things that he has said about women,” said Verner, who has voted for Republicans and Democrats. “He does not have a nice thing to say about women. And they want to line up and vote for him?”
On the other side of the street, a Trump supporter in line screamed: “What about Bill Clinton? Clinton is still a rapist!” A vendor sold blue yard signs that said: “Trump that b---- before it’s too late.” Another sold T-shirts showing a cartoon Trump urinating on the word “Hillary.”
Pam Butler, 59, is worried Trump will lose. She blames the Republican establishment.
Butler, who lives in Evans City and works at the post office, was appalled to learn that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) announced Monday he would no longer defend Trump or campaign with him. “I’m sickened by it, just sickened,” she said. “They’re going to regret it. . . . They’re going to regret it in the end. I hope they do. Their constituents are going to leave them.”
Ron Ritz, 69, blames the media for making a big deal out of Trump’s 2005 comments. Ritz said now that Trump has apologized, everyone needs to move on and focus on issues of greater importance — such as Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state and her response to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
“We are guys, and there are locker room statements, okay? There are girls that go to locker rooms and make statements, too,” said Ritz, an Air Force veteran who lives in Somerset County.
He said he had never expressed anything like what Trump said in the tape but admitted, “I have said things to guys that I would not say to a girl.”
Ritz said that the polls are not accurate and that he expects Trump to win — but that the Republican could lose because Democrats will use the names of dead people to pile up fraudulent votes.
“If things are done aboveboard and legally, the American people want Donald J. Trump. They do not like Hillary,” Ritz said. “Where I have been, I have not seen two Hillary signs — and hundreds of Trump signs. That’s a fact.”
In the high school gym, it seemed like Trump was polling at 100 percent. The screaming crowd reassured Frasca, the letter-writing grandmother who still hopes Trump will read her letter and adopt her strategy. If he wins, she has promised her neighbors that she will crack open an expensive bottle of Scotch that belonged to her late husband.
“I pray every night that he will be president,” she said. “And every night I worry that she will be president.”