YORK, Pa. - If Donald Trump doesn’t carry Pennsylvania, his chances of becoming president reach the vanishing point. For now, he’s in deep trouble in a place that, demographically, ought to be a Trumpian promised land.
A poll released Tuesday, by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Marist, found Hillary Clinton leading by 11 points in Pennsylvania in a two-way race with Trump, and by nine when Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein are added to the mix. Key to Clinton’s leads in all the recent surveys: the aversion of women to Donald Trump.
It’s not hard to run into such voters, even among Republicans in York County, a GOP redoubt that gave Mitt Romney 60 percent of its votes in 2012 and John McCain 56 percent four years earlier, even as both were losing statewide.
Susan Byrnes, a York County Commissioner and a moderate Republican who supported John Kasich in the Pennsylvania primary, said her work with veterans over the years explains her horror over Trump’s comments about the Khan family and his casual treatment of the matter of earning a Purple Heart.
“The way he interacted with the parents of a Muslim soldier and the way he talked about the Purple Heart - it almost made my heart stop,” she said in a telephone interview from a County Commissioners’ gathering in the Poconos. “I can’t vote for someone like that.”
Kristen Fraser is a lawyer and businesswoman who wrote in Paul Ryan’s name in the primary and is exactly the sort of voter the Republican Party needs to cherish. She can’t vote for Hillary Clinton, she said, but added: “My social views are very liberal. I can’t bring myself to vote for Trump.”
Both Byrnes and Fraser spoke to me before Trump’s “Second Amendment” comments on Tuesday that hinted at violence against Clinton.
Fraser was part of a group that gathered to talk about the campaign at The Left Bank, a popular eatery here, brought together for me by Allison Roth-Cooper and Patrick DeLany, top editors of the York Dispatch.
In the course of the discussion, Roth-Cooper made a point often lost in a campaign discourse focused on the spectacular and the ideological. “This area is a little bit Southern in its attitude toward manners and decorum,” she said. “Common decency is a core part of who people are.” She doesn’t say so directly, but her point is clear: Trump may simply be too rude and coarse for many who are conservative in their politics but traditional in their view of how leaders should behave.
If any recently Democratic state should be hospitable to Trump, Pennsylvania is it with the fifth oldest population in the country (Trump is strongest with older voters) and an electorate in which white voters form a slightly larger share than the national average. The Keystone State has hemorrhaged jobs overseas for decades and has been skeptical of free trade going back to the 1840s. And there has been palpable discontent with Democrats here for some time: Romney cut Obama’s 2008 statewide margin of 620,478 to 309,840 in 2012.
No one at the Left Bank gathering doubted that Trump would carry York County, and Carla Christopher, a community organizer who supported Bernie Sanders, said there was continued discontent with Clinton among progressives even as blue-collar voters “are fresh and raw” in their anger over economic changes that have left them worse off than their parents and grandparents.
The Clinton campaign is acting as if it does not believe she has the big lead here that public polls suggest. It has pulled its ads from Virginia and Colorado, where she is well ahead, but not from Pennsylvania.
State Rep. Stanley Saylor, a Republican legislator for 24 years (he supported Marco Rubio in the primaries) is skeptical of the statewide polls. He believes Trump will run ahead of Romney by winning over blue-collar Democrats and union members “who like the fact that he’s not giving them the same spiel that politicians give to them every time” and “that he’s not politically correct.” When it comes to yard signs, he notes, there are far more for Trump (and Sanders) than for Clinton.
Saylor may yet be proved right. But Trump’s problem is with the quiet “manners and decorum” voters who are still making up their minds. What his supporters relish as straight-talking can look reckless and dangerous to those not yet in the fold. Day by day, he’s making it no easier for them to come his way.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EJDionne.