Trump attacks point to Pennsylvania's critical role in reelection bid

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE will travel to the prominent presidential battleground of Pennsylvania on Thursday, further submerging himself in a politically charged debate over whether states are opening too quickly or slowly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Scores of protesters descended on the state Capitol last month to protest Gov. Tom Wolf's (D) stay-at-home directive, and Trump cheered them on, tweeting Monday that Pennsylvanians “want their freedom now.”

It’s just the latest example of Trump urging demonstrators to rally against state stay-at-home orders; he previously suggested that citizens “liberate” the states of Michigan and Minnesota — two other swing states on his 2020 target list.

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The efforts reflect Trump’s drive to reopen the economy amid a coronavirus-fueled recession that is endangering his reelection hopes this fall. Trump’s advisers see the faltering economy, which was once their best argument for reelecting Trump, as an existential danger.

The polls are showing bright-red warning signs for Trump. The RealClearPolitics average of polls has presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenStopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest Trump slams Biden staff for donating bail money to protesters At least 4,400 people arrested in connection with protests: report MORE with 48.3 percent in Pennsylvania, to Trump’s 41.87 percent.

Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by just 45,000 votes. Along with Michigan and Wisconsin, the three states are among the half-dozen most critical races in the country. If Trump slumps in the trio of states, he almost certainly will lose his reelection bid.

Thursday’s trip to Allentown, where the president will tour and make remarks at Owens and Minor Inc., marks his second trip in as many weeks to a pivotal presidential state. The trips are part of a concerted effort by Trump to brand his response to the pandemic as a success while signaling to the broader public that the U.S. is prepared to allow businesses to reopen.

“Trump cannot win the election if people think he didn’t handle the pandemic well,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist who previously worked for Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThis week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic Trump asserts his power over Republicans National security adviser says foreign powers trying to exploit US race relations MORE (R-Fla.). “It’s a lot more effective when he goes to a factory making masks to talk about everything his administration has done to increase [personal protective equipment] production than when he’s saying it in the briefing room.”

Pennsylvania has become the latest focal point in the tug-of-war over how state leaders should peel back restrictions to restart the economy while avoiding a surge in new coronavirus cases.

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The Keystone State has more than 61,000 coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins data, and roughly 4,000 people in the state have died of the disease. There are more than 3,000 confirmed cases in Lehigh County, where Trump will be on Thursday.

Wolf has taken a cautious approach to lifting restrictions, allowing counties to engage in a phased “Red-Yellow-Green” reopening only once they’ve met certain requirements. Twenty-four of the state's 67 counties have already moved into the yellow phase and lifted stay-at-home orders, and 13 others will do the same on Friday.

But many counties still have stringent mitigation measures in place through June 4. The deliberate approach has drawn the ire of conservatives, many of whom have used Wolf as a poster child for claims of government overreach.

Rep. Guy ReschenthalerGuy ReschenthalerHouse GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 Trump attacks point to Pennsylvania's critical role in reelection bid McCarthy unveils new GOP-led China task force MORE (R-Pa.) decried Wolf's “draconian shutdown measures” during a White House meeting last week, prompting Trump to call Democrats’ actions in the state “a disgrace.”

Fox News host Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamTrump lashes out at Fox News after poll shows him trailing Biden Trump complains Fox News is 'doing nothing to help' him get reelected White House, CDC rift spills into the open MORE tweeted Wednesday that the majority of the state's coronavirus deaths have been tied to nursing homes.

“PA should never have been shutdown or lectured by @GovernorTomWolf,” Ingraham tweeted.

Several county leaders declared they would reopen businesses in defiance of Wolf's orders. The governor this week admonished the actions as “selfish and unsafe” and threatened to withhold funding for counties that reopen without approval.

Wolf has gotten high marks from residents, with a poll released this week showing 72 percent of adults in the state approve of how he has dealt with the pandemic.

Asked this week about Trump’s tweet targeting his state, Wolf argued the president was being unrealistic in pressing for businesses to open both quickly and safely.

“The irresponsible thing to do is to just willy-nilly go off and pretend we can wave a magic wand and go back into business and suspend the reality of this virus that surrounds us,” he said at a news conference.

Republicans and some Democrats in the state have pushed Wolf to move more swiftly, citing the dire economic impact on the manufacturing-heavy state. More than 1.7 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania since mid-March, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Trump’s advisers are pivoting to casting the president as the best candidate to restore jobs and prosperity following the pandemic.

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“When you look at the election coming up, a lot of it is going to come down to who do you trust to build the economy back,” senior White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump's strategy to stay in office Trump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Press: King Donald's goal - no checks, no balances MORE told Time magazine on Tuesday, saying Trump would “fight like hell for all Americans.”

Recent polling also shows a majority of Americans are in favor of leaving restrictions in place versus lifting them too soon, and the president’s own top health officials on Tuesday warned of disastrous consequences should states move too fast.

Trump has also consistently polled worse on his handling of the pandemic than many of the governors he’s criticized for moving too slowly, including Wolf.

“Trump won Pennsylvania; he is most certainly concerned about Pennsylvania politically,” said Andrea Mead, former chief of staff to Pennsylvania first lady Frances Wolf. “And I think he has every right to be given the way Gov. Wolf has handled things, given Joe Biden’s approval in Pennsylvania, and given the people that have been hardest hit by this are working class Pennsylvanians who have traditionally been [Trump’s] base.”