It was Columbus Day in Pennsylvania, and in 2020 that could only mean one thing: Rudy Giuliani was in Philadelphia sounding like Livia Soprano.
As Donald Trump traveled to Florida for his first MAGA rally since his hospitalization for COVID-19, his campaign called in the most famous Italian American Trump supporter who hasn’t yet been fired or indicted (it’s been a rough four years for my people) for what they billed as the launch of “Italian Americans for Trump.” With Trump down in the polls 22 days from Election Day, the evening started with an actual Hail Mary inside a cramped Trump campaign office in Northeast Philly.
Mother of God
Pray for us sinners now
And at the hour of our death
“RUDY!” a man yelled. “Next mayor of Philadelphia: Rudy!”
But for everybody’s sake, I hope it worked more like a prayer to Saint Raphael, the patron saint of healing.
While outside it rained and temperatures fell to 56 degrees, inside the cramped office space, the air was warm and humid, like hot breath. Giuliani, who is 76 years old, spoke at close range to about 75 supporters for over 30 minutes. Although he claims to have tested negative, he was present at debate-prep sessions two weeks ago with the president and others — Chris Christie, Kellyanne Conway, and Bill Stepien — all of whom have since tested positive. At the Philly event on Monday night, he did not wear a face covering, and while many others in attendance did, they often wore them improperly, the masks hanging below their noses, rendering them ineffective.
Giuliani mentioned hydroxychloroquine, the drug promoted by Trump throughout the pandemic as a way to prevent coronavirus infection that was discredited even before Trump contracted the virus. “I took one this morning,” Giuliani said. “I was exposed four days ago. Four negatives. My doctor makes me take hydroxychloroquine because he believes it’s a prophylactic. Not only that — my doctor has treated 2,000 patients. Two people died. One was 87. The other was 79. Both of them had very serious diabetes.”
He called the drug “a great pill if you take it at the early stages.” And he credited Trump with the experimental medication doctors used to treat the president for the virus. “Now we have at least five therapeutics,” he said, adding falsely that “people don’t die of the disease anymore. Young people don’t die at all. Middle-aged people die very little. And even elderly people have only a one percent chance of dying. When I had prostate cancer, I had a 10 percent chance of dying. It’s no longer what it was back in March.”
In the last few weeks before Election Day, the Trump campaign is hosting events throughout the state, mostly in areas they’re likely to win. But the Italian American community is strong in Philadelphia, and so the mayor from a Garden State away delivered remarks designed to use racism and conspiracy theories to scare white voters into action.
Support in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the urban islands of Pennsylvania’s rural and suburban sea, had historically been enough to hand Democrats victory here. That changed in the last election, when Trump increased turnout enough to beat Hillary Clinton by 44,292 votes statewide, or about one percentage point. But if 2020’s polls are to be believed, that outcome was a fluke. Trump has only led Biden in one out of 55 state polls conducted over the past 19 months and tied with him just twice. More often, Biden has beat Trump by double digits, and currently leads him by an average of seven points.
“Hillary was more frightening than Joe. Joe’s a big crook, don’t get me wrong. He’s a slimy crooked politician. But he comes across like a nice old man,” Giuliani said before transitioning into a singsong voice: “He’s a Catholic” — a “fake Catholic” someone in the crowd interrupted — “killing babies about two days before they’re born. He’s okay with that.”
Giuliani also took a shot at Biden’s son: “There are pictures of Hunter all over the world smoking crack.”
The event had been scheduled to take place in South Philly, home to the city’s Italian Market. But the owners of 2300 Arena, a 15,000-square-foot venue best known for hosting pro-wrestling matches (and, relevant to our purposes here, once called the Asylum Arena) canceled after learning that the “private fundraiser for a local politician” they’d agreed to was actually a MAGA rally, according to the Inquirer. The Trump campaign failed to note the change of address in invitations to supporters, as well as the 4:30 start time. A man driving a car with Trump flags waving from the roof drove up to the 2300 Arena and shouted across the street, asking if the event had been canceled. The sign on the doors read “THERE IS NO POLITICAL RALLY OR FUNDRAISING EVENT TONIGHT AT THE 2300.” The man raised his fist in the air as he drove off.
The Trump campaign blamed Mayor Jim Kenney for the inconvenience, but a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said it was the pandemic, not politics, that had intervened. As in many cities across the country trying to stop the spread of the virus, Philadelphia’s health department guidelines ban indoor gatherings larger than 25 people. Relative to the rest of the country, rates of coronavirus in Pennsylvania have been low, but they are rising. Over the last week, the state has averaged more than 1,000 new infections per day with 18 deaths reported on Monday alone. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Philadelphia alone has recorded 1,855 deaths.
A half-hour away from the 2300 Arena, amid construction warehouses in Northeast Philly, a police officer told reporters outside the Trump campaign office that the Italian Americans for Trump event was in obvious violation of the city mandate. “I stay away from crowds,” the officer said, as he opted to stay outside and keep his mask on.
Meanwhile, inside, Giuliani claimed to be defending his honor. “They have 10,000 people march, spitting in each other’s face,” he said. Assuming the character of a left-wing protester, he shouted, “‘Kill police! Kill police! Pigs in a blanket! Fry ’em like bacon!’” As he remarked that “‘Black Lives Matter’ equals ‘kill cops,’” a man in the room yelled, “Build the wall!”
Giuliani continued, “… and it’s founded by people who killed cops.” He offered the example of Susan Rosenberg — a onetime fugitive and member of the Weather Underground who served 16 years in jail after being caught with weapons and explosives — who became, on the inside, an influential activist, writer, and poet. Giuliani has been using her case to whip up fear since 2001, when her prison sentence was commuted by President Bill Clinton. “He let her out in 16 years so she could train Black Lives Matter in how to kill cops,” he said on Monday, “which is what she did when she was young.” (That’s another right-wing conspiracy theory; Rosenberg does sit on the board of a group that raises money for the cause, but that’s it.) He added, “Another guy, the financier for the Black Revolutionary Army. He also killed cops. It’s a horrible situation.”
After claiming that Democrats used the pandemic to take away gun rights, which did not happen, he mentioned the McCloskeys, the couple who wielded guns on the porch of their St. Louis mansion in front of Black Lives Matter demonstrators who were passing by. Giuliani claimed, falsely, that the protesters had yelled, “’We want to rape your wife! We want to rape your wife! We want this for reparations! This is number one for reparations! Biggest house here! Reparations!’” He added, “Nobody knows this, but at the time, their daughter was upstairs under the bed because she was afraid they’re going to come in and they’re talking about rape and they’re going to rape the wife and they’re going to find the daughter.”
Moving on to the Q&A portion of the evening, a woman kicked things off by asking about QAnon. “I don’t trust QAnon,” Giuliani said. She responded, “I’m sorry, I forgive you.” Giuliani added, “If you want to know, do I think there’s a deep state? One hundred percent.”
If there is a deep-state plot to prevent Donald Trump from being reelected, they couldn’t do a better job than the Trump campaign, which seems intent on hosting superspreader events. And in the name of Italian Americans! Madonna Mia.