Milton Focht reaches for his bassoon when he gets the blues about the coronavirus pandemic or the presidential election.
Socializing and family visits at Mr. Focht’s retirement community in eastern Pennsylvania have been severely restricted since the coronavirus hit in March, and the management stopped meal service in the communal dining room.
In Mr. Focht’s apartment, his double-reed woodwind instrument transports him somewhere else.
“I can pick up the bassoon, and while I’m playing it, I can totally forget about everything else,” said Mr. Focht, 91. “I’ve tried to do whatever I could to fight depression.”
The registered Republican is voting for Democrat Joseph R. Biden this year.
“I just cannot stand the superiority and attitudes of Trump,” Mr. Focht said in an interview. “I don’t know how to say it in polite language. No, I will definitely vote for Biden.”
President Trump is losing support among seniors in his bid for reelection, according to public polls. Four years ago, the president won the 65-and-older voting group in Pennsylvania by 10 percentage points. But a New York Times/Siena College poll this month found Mr. Biden leading the president by 11 points among seniors — a 21-point swing from 2016.
A Morning Call-Muhlenberg College poll of the 7th Congressional District in eastern Pennsylvania last week found that 52% of respondents believe Mr. Trump has done a poor job handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Another 10% said he has done a “fair” job, 19% rated his performance as good and 18% said he has done an excellent job.
Trump campaign officials began airing a TV ad Tuesday touting the president as the “clear choice” among seniors on lowering drug costs, protecting Social Security and other issues. Campaign manager Bill Stepien didn’t dispute that the president has lost ground with seniors, but he said Mr. Trump will make up for it by gaining support from Black and Hispanic voters.
“Whatever perceived slippage you’re seeing in [poll] numbers among seniors, I’m absolutely certain that it will be addressed,” Mr. Stepien told reporters.
Mr. Biden, campaigning in Florida on Tuesday, told older Americans that Mr. Trump views seniors as “expendable.”
“It has become painfully clear as his careless, arrogant, reckless COVID response has caused one of the worst tragedies in American history [that] the only senior that Donald Trump cares about, the only senior, is senior Donald Trump,” Mr. Biden said in Pembroke Pines. The Democrat promised to protect Medicare and Medicaid, to cut the costs of prescription drugs and to pump more money into health care research.
In a video posted on Twitter last week, Mr. Trump called seniors “my favorite people in the world.” He promised rapid authorization of the same kinds of drugs he has taken to treat COVID-19.
“We’re taking care of our seniors,” the president said. “I want you to get the same care that I got. You’re going to get the same medicine, you’re going to get it free, no charge. And we’re going to get it to you soon.”
In phone interviews with residents of Mr. Focht’s retirement community in Pennsylvania, seniors repeatedly cited what they view as Mr. Trump’s poor handling of the pandemic, which has caused hardship for many older Americans. Seven people in the residential complex of about 450 have died from COVID-19.
For many seniors, opposition to the president predates the pandemic. They criticized his personality as divisive, mean-spirited and overbearing. Some said the president deserved to get COVID-19 because of his reckless behavior, although they hope he is recovering fully.
“I just think that Trump has just done a great disservice to our country,” said Georgia Baldridge, 89, a retired teacher’s aide. “I can’t believe anything he says. I don’t think Joe Biden is the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I think he’s an honest man.”
When John Hayashi, 90, thinks about Mr. Trump, he is reminded of what his family endured during World War II after Japan’s military forces attacked Pearl Harbor. The federal government moved his family and other Japanese Americans from California to what Mr. Hayashi calls a “concentration camp” in Wyoming, despite his father’s status as a U.S. veteran of World War I who was wounded in battle.
“We were incarcerated because of racism,” said Mr. Hayashi, who was 12 at the time. “Trump’s philosophy is very racist, and that’s one thing that has turned me against him. I’m learning democracy is really a loose thread connecting the executive, the judicial branch and the Congress. I didn’t know democracy was so fragile.”
Trump campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso said the president and his administration “remain laser-focused on protecting our most vulnerable citizens, including our nation’s senior citizens.”
“The Trump administration has been steadfast in preserving Social Security, strengthening Medicare and lowering prescription drug prices across the board,” he said.
Elaine “Penny” Shelly, 92, a retired teacher, was a “Goldwater Girl” for conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. She likes Mr. Trump “because he’s a conservative” and because he wants to forge America into “the way it was.”
“He sticks to his guns,” she said. “Hopefully, he will drain some of the swamp, like he promised to do, and he can stand up to [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi. I can’t stand them. All this liberal thinking of giving and socialism, I’m all against that.”
Marsha and Gary Polakoff, both 70, voted for Mr. Trump four years ago and said they will do so again.
“I absolutely hate Biden,” Mrs. Polakoff said. “Trump has followed through with most of the things that he promised he would do. The typical politician promises you everything and then does nothing.”
Mr. Polakoff said he likes the president’s stand on trade.
“All these years, I couldn’t see how all these presidents let all these other countries rip us off,” Mr. Polakoff said. “He said he was going to do something about it, and he did.”
Mrs. Polakoff did say she wished the president “would tone down, sometimes, the way he speaks.”
“Maybe he should filter it a little bit more,” Mrs. Polakoff said. “I think that’s what maybe turns a lot of people off. But other than that, he has tried very hard.”
Mr. Trump’s personality is a big reason why David Dunbar, 89, will be voting against him.
“It’s too bad to vote against a guy just because you don’t like him, but I’m afraid that’s what’s happening,” Mr. Dunbar said. “I’m not sure he’s the kind of person who ought to be president.”
His wife, Christine, said she dislikes the “fuss” that Mr. Trump is making about the security of mail-in ballots.
“He is divisive, he has been confrontational,” she said. “I do have opinions about him, but I don’t always express them very well. I just scream a lot.”
The Trump campaign has challenged Pennsylvania’s efforts to expand mail-in balloting. The state Supreme Court ruled last month that absentee ballots in Pennsylvania must be mailed by Election Day but can be delivered up to three days afterward. State Republican officials have appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sandra Huegel, 87, said she is concerned about what she calls Republican efforts to “block” mail-in balloting.
“That bothers me a lot — the whole thing with the Postal System and the efforts to disavow the election results,” she said. “It’s fraud, but it’s not the Democrats. It’s the Republicans blocking people from going to the polls.”
George Fennell, 76, a retired music teacher, said he dislikes the way Mr. Trump has handled the pandemic.
“He comes out with these idiotic statements like, ‘Oh, it’ll be over,’” Mr. Fennell said. “He thinks pie-in-the-sky, and he just has no rationale behind his thinking. It’s just off the cuff.”
David Godshall, 85, a retired minister, rejects the president’s argument that he was trying to avoid creating panic early in the pandemic.
“I don’t think the American people would have panicked if he had told us how serious it was from the beginning and urged us to do everything we could to prevent it,” Mr. Godshall said.
He said their retirement community has done a good job of preventing the spread of COVID-19, but the relatively isolated lifestyle is difficult.
“We don’t get to see our families — maybe on Zoom,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ll see our families through the holidays this year.”
The president said Mr. Biden proved as vice president that “he didn’t know what he was doing” against the swine flu epidemic.
“What we’ve gone through as a country is a horrible thing,” Mr. Trump said. “But I do know what I’m doing, and the seniors are going to be taken care of.”
• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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