Donald Trump held a rally in Pittsburgh last night. Does he know anything about Pittsburgh? The answer, I can definitively say, is: no. I’m certain of this because at the beginning of his speech, Trump held up a piece of paper and said, “I will tell you this: I asked, when I came over, gimme some stats on how Pittsburgh is doing.” And so his staff gave him some stats, and the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president literally read them off of a folded up sheet of paper.
Except, being that this was Donald Trump, he didn’t just read shit aloud. He freestyled heavily, as he does, and it led to a notably stunning moment in a campaign full of them. At one point, Trump said:
How’s Joe Paterno? We gonna bring that back? How about that whole... how about that whole deal?
Joe Paterno, if you’re unfamiliar, was the revered head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team. Paterno won the most games ever in college football before instantly becoming a deeply regrettable historical figure when, in 2011, it was revealed that he had helped cover up sex abuse committed by his longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is now in jail for life after being convicted of molesting eight boys.
How’s Joe Paterno? He’s been dead since 2012. We gonna bring that back? Well, “Reanimate Joe Paterno’s Corpse” would actually stand as one of Trump’s more specific policy proposals to date. How about that whole deal? Your guess is as good as ours, Donald.
Per the AP, a Trump spokesperson clarified after the rally that he was referring to the statue of Paterno that once stood outside the team’s football stadium before it was unceremoniously removed in July 2012. In 2015, the NCAA essentially forgave Penn State for harboring a child rapist, which immediately gave Nittany Lion fanatics the cover to rally to restore the legacy of their football coach who they never stopped revering despite him actively working to cover up child rape that occurred in his locker room.
Trump’s instincts weren’t totally wrong. A 2015 Quinnipiac poll showed that 60 percent of Pennsylvanians would support Penn State reestablishing its Paterno statue. But Trump’s naked contempt for the exact people who see him as their savior led him astray for once. Yes, he pandered to their dirty love for a morally corrupt old football coach, but he couldn’t even bother to do it properly.
You can hear the crowd’s confusion in the sparse cheers his pro-Paterno rallying cry is met with. You can also, if you listen closely, detect a bit of horror in the crowd’s response to Trump. I suspect this is not because some in the crowd are offended by Trump blithely tossing out a politically incorrect opinion, but because a lot of people at the rally just hate Penn State.
The rally, once again, was in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has its own college—the University of Pittsburgh, a.k.a. Pitt—whose football team has always played in the shadow of the far more successful team at Penn State.
After the Paterno thing falls flat, Trump pauses and says:
Now how about Penn State? Do we love Penn State? In all fairness.
There are scattered cheers, as Penn State is nonetheless popular everywhere in Pennsylvania. Perhaps understanding the folly of his ways, Trump quickly transitions to: “We love Penn State. But we love Pittsburgh, right?” Right.
Also, at the very beginning of the rally Trump said:
So, I know Pittsburgh. Have a lot of friends. Big Ben is a friend of mine. Big Ben. Do we love Big Ben?