Trump goes campaigning in Pennsylvania — after White House says he's not campaigning

Trump is visiting Pennsylvania to meet with a GOP candidate running in a special election in a deep red district

By Matthew Rozsa
Published January 18, 2018 9:40AM (EST)
 (Getty/Nicholas Kamm)
(Getty/Nicholas Kamm)

President Donald Trump is making a campaign stop in Pennsylvania to meet with a Republican whose electoral fate could be a bellwether for the entire GOP's future in the 2018 midterm elections.

On Thursday, Trump will visit North Fayette — a town just north of Pittsburgh — to support Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone, according to Bloomberg. Saccone is running for the vacant seat in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, which was left open last year after Republican Rep. Tim Murphy resigned in disgrace when it came out that he had suggested that his mistress have an abortion.

Officially, however, the White House is insisting that they aren't visiting as part of a campaign stop. Instead, they claim that they are doing so to visit H&K Equipment, a plant that Trump will tour before explaining how he believes his economic policies will help the workers there, according to KDKA radio. While there, though, Trump will greet Saccone — and Trump himself indicated on Twitter that he's going there as a campaign visit.

One problem with Trump describing his visit as a government trip, when it is in fact a campaign stop, is that taxpayers will pick up a bill they might not otherwise have to. While the government subsidizes presidential trips conducted to perform official business, politicians have to to pay their own bills for campaign-related activities. It's unclear who'd be paying for Trump to visit Saccone — but it's now harder for the taxpayers to do it.

Saccone's campaign is considered especially important by Republican leaders because of the sobering implications of a possible defeat. The district is so staunchly Republican that Democrats didn't bother fielding an opponent to Murphy in the last two election cycles, and when they did in 2012, Murphy won with 64 percent of the vote. In 2016, Trump won the district by 20 percentage points.

Yet in the aftermath of the GOP's shocking loss in the 2017 Alabama Senate election, the Republican Party is determined to demonstrate that they aren't vulnerable in the reddest parts of the country. The special election is scheduled to be held on March 13, less than two months after Trump's visit, and the Democrats have nominated a candidate who is reminiscent of the centrist Doug Jones that pulled off the Alabama upset — Conor Lamb, another centrist as well as a Marine veteran and former assistant U.S. attorney.

The 2018 midterm elections are widely expected to be a pivotal moment in American politics.

"This is the most important election of our lifetimes, coming up this year. If everybody sort of gets together and rebukes these abuses of power and says, 'Look, we disagree on some things, but this behavior is unacceptable,' and the Democrats sweep, you know, complete control of House and Senate, and then start to write into law the things that used to be democratic norms, that Trump's violated, we could actually have a strengthening of American democracy over the long term," Brian Klaas, author of "The Despot's Apprentice," told Salon earlier this month.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Conor Lamb Donald Trump Pennsylvania Rick Saccone