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BUTLER, Pennsylvania— As soon as one crosses over into Pennsylvania’s Butler County, the scenery is draped in a vast phalanx of Trump 2020 paraphernalia. Accountants’ offices and landscaping businesses bear enormous Trump banners, the owners apparently unconcerned that they’ll lose any business in a county where Donald Trump bested Hilary Clinton 64,428 to 28,584 votes in 2016.
Some make weekend money setting up tents selling Trump flags and T-shirts in parking lots along Route 8. There’s a stall every few miles.
Trump chose the Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport as one of his last campaign stops on Saturday, just three days before Election Day. And after polls showing Trump down 10-plus points nationally and five in Pennsylvania, it may have given the president just the ego boost he needs: Most of those in attendance are convinced that the president will not just win, but win in a landslide against former Vice President Joe Biden. Any other outcome will be seen by these supporters as proof of some nefarious scheme at play.
“From what I’m seeing, he’s going to win 70-30, 80-20,” said Blane, 30, who stood in the airport’s outdoor stage area nestling his girlfriend, Lex. Both wore hoodies.
Blane and Lex are residents of Butler (pop. 13,557), the small city at the center of the county. Neither agreed to give their last names. “I’m pretty sure it’s the underlining group of Americans who support Trump,” said Blane. “What you see in the news and media outlets is clipped and altered.”
Lex concurs that, “It’s going to be a landslide.” When asked how she can be sure, she points to the crowd, a mostly mask-less throng of MAGA hats and Trump T-shirts. “Do you see this?”
Because they think Trump has a majority not seen in the last century (not even Franklin D. Roosevelt earned 70 percent of the popular vote), a Biden win must be illegitimate.
“If that happens, the whole thing is rigged and I have lost faith in America and in humanity,” said Blane. “I am leaving for Canada or Mexico.”
Blane hasn’t voted since he cast a ballot for Barack Obama in 2008. He said he started supporting Trump after seeing an online video called “Fall of the Cabal,” which is part of the Q Anon repertoire ejected from YouTube, alleging pedophilia rings among societal elites.
“It’s a sick perversion of humanity, what’s happening in entertainment and in sports,” said Blane. “I like to think [Trump] is going to crack it like an egg.”
Trump gave his usual speech, tearing into Biden, defending his response to “the Chinese plague,” and promising manufacturing jobs to an area that suffered a devastating loss of manufacturing jobs in the ’80s and ’90s but has since had more than 20 years to adapt. The event left some attendees stuck in the cold, waiting for shuttles. Unlike a similar fiasco in Omaha, Nebraska, however, no one was hospitalized.
In conversations with The Daily Beast, supporters in the crowd expressed certainty Trump would win. Some said they would calmly accept a Biden presidency if he doesn’t. Many entertained the idea that the former vice president would — through some manipulation — appear to have won the election. Some had exotic scenarios in mind.
“I believe if it was a true and honest election, Trump would win by 80 percent,” said Bradly Burnside, 31, of Butler, who came to the rally dressed as Heath Ledger’s Joker. (It was Halloween.) “There’s lots of fraud. Generally, the mechanisms are known.”
Burnside said that once Trump surges ahead in votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would “call her nephew and have it fixed,” though he couldn’t name the nephew. (This might be a reference to social media misinformation that Pelosi’s nephew is California Gov. Gavin Newson. He is not.)
Seeming sober and serious, despite the outfit, he claimed Biden would then utilize a foreign army to “come for my guns.” “You’re going to be forced to wear masks, to stay in your cubicle,” he said.
His girlfriend, Kyria Crawford, 31, bearing cat ears and face paint whiskers, did not have such a scenario mapped out, but shared Burnside’s certainty that Trump will win. They have been to six Trump rallies. “There is just such positivity here,” she said. “I don’t see how he could lose.”
“It’s going to be a sweep,” said Chris Williams, 46, of Irwin, Pennsylvania, who wore a T-shirt showing a Punisher skull topped by Trump’s iconic comb-over. “There are too many Trump supporters and they are the silent majority.”
He recounts predictions Clinton would win in 2016 and thinks 2020 will be a repeat. “There’s no retribution for being wrong as a pollster,” he said. “It’s all in cahoots.”
He predicted that if Biden somehow won, he would be impeached by his own party, for supposed connections to China and evidence that will amass from his son Hunter’s much-discussed business dealings. “That scandal will not go away.”
“Then they’ll have Kamala Harris as president, which is who they wanted but they knew she couldn’t win.”
Tom McHugh, Jr., 26, of Wampum, Pennsylvania, said that Biden could be installed by “voter fraud.” “They are really pushing mail-in ballots,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of doubts about it.”
He also believed that Harris, the vice presidential nominee, has been chosen to be president and that the Democratic Party will do away with Biden, in a much bloodier way. “They wanted to nominate Harris, so Biden has to survive. [After the election], they don’t need to keep him. They might just kill him.”
His father, Tom McHugh, Sr., 57, shared his suspicions about mail-in voting. “I think there’s going to be a lot of fraud,” he said. “You can turn in your ballot three days after the election.” (Pennsylvania will count mail-in ballots received by election officials three days after the election, if they are postmarked by Nov. 3 or in cases where the postmark is illegible or missing.)
As for what they would do if Biden is inaugurated, the McHughs did not have any specific plans. “If it’s a fair and square election, I will accept it,” said the elder McHugh, though he didn’t have a metric by which he would deem an election legitimate.
Some rally-goers had more tepid views.
John Kowalkowski, 54, of Adams Township, Pennsylvania, spent the hours before the rally on a sofa placed outdoors with a group of friends, all decked out in Trump hats and sweatshirts, at a house a few miles from the airport. “This is very college,” he said, drinkin hand.
“I’m feeling positive,” Kowalkowski added. “I think the silent majority Trump voter will come out.”
If Biden wins, Kowalkowski said, “I will worry. There will never be a protest from me though. That’s the difference. [Trump] has been disrespected since day one. I won’t do that. I will worry but it will be okay.”
His friend, 51-year-old Shelley Vasbinder of Mars, Pennsylvania, (yes, it’s a real town) was a bit more concerned. “I don’t want socialism. I don’t want communism. That’s what we are going to have [under Biden]. I want people to come home for Thanksgiving, for the holidays. I have two kids in college learning from home. I want them back on campus.” She added that, “we have to live” with coronavirus and sat snuggly close with friends on the sofa.
“But if he wins, he’s the president,” she said. “I will never be one of those people who say, ‘He’s not my president.’ I will respect the office.”