Donald Trump held a rally in Ohio on Saturday, his first since leaving office. It was ostensibly in support of a Republican candidate mounting a primary challenge to an incumbent Republican congressperson who had committed the sin of voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment. But of course, the rally was about him. Everything is always about him.
So what did Trump say to the thousands who turned out to hear their Dear Leader? Did he have anything new? Apparently not.
Appearing to relish being back in front of thousands of supporters, Trump repeated his false claim that his defeat in the November 2020 election was marred by fraud.
Trump survived a second impeachment on a charge linked to the violence and has kept broad influence over the Republican Party, in part by leaving open the question of whether he will run for office again in 2024.
He dangled that possibility on Saturday to the crowd.
“We won the election twice and it’s possible we’ll have to win it a third time. It’s possible,” he said.
The former president highlighted parts of his regular grievance list at the rally, with particular focus on the rising number of immigrants crossing over the U.S. southern border, an issue Republicans have zeroed in on to rally their voters.
Trump repeatedly attacked what he called “woke generals,” following an exchange this week in which the top U.S. military officer hit back against a growing conservative movement opposed to teaching certain theories about racism.
“Our generals and our admirals are now focused more on this nonsense than they are on our enemies,” Trump said.
He criticized the media, a regular foil, and tried to co-opt the phrase “Big Lie,” which critics have used to describe his efforts to discredit the 2020 results.
Meridith McGraw also attended the rally and writes about what she saw and heard during his 95 minutes speech.
Where once his supporters were hopeful, they now seemed aggrieved. The crowds are more frenzied, the conspiracies more fantastical, the cast of characters more outlandish.
On Saturday evening, Trump had come to town to support congressional candidate Max Miller, a former White House aide who gained his endorsement partly because he was a loyal foot soldier willing to take on Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
But no one seemed to care about any of that. Few of the attendees registered any opinion on the congressional race. Two people I interviewed from the 16th District didn’t even know who Gonzalez or Miller were.
Instead, they wanted to hear from Trump; and, if not him, then the supporting cast of allies who have eagerly fed the fraud that the 2020 election was stolen, ripped from the hands of voters like them.
On stage, a math teacher from Cincinnati gave a bizarre PowerPoint presentation to a patient audience that squinted in the sun to see slides of squiggly lines he said amounted to evidence of widespread, coordinated election fraud. He used his fuzzy math to prove Trump actually won the election, and the audience nodded along.
And yet, there were signs this rally was different. During past rallies, Trump’s supporters applauded Trump as he trashed immigrants, demonized the media, and echoed his calls to lock up his opponents. But they also felt hopeful the real estate magnate was giving them a voice. There was a sense that this charismatic outsider would empower them to change Washington, and a joyfulness that came with being part of a movement. Now, they felt cheated. “WE THE PEOPLE ARE PISSED OFF,” one popular rally T-shirt read. Their champion was no longer in office, which means he had been stripped of any real power. It seemed to feed a sense of desperation, even from Trump himself.
“The subject matter is somewhat depressing,” he said of his own speech.
McGraw happened to be seated next to nutcase congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene on the plane back to Washington, DC who told her that Trump had personally invited her to come and speak at the rally, where he praised her as “loved and respected, tough, smart and kind.”
According to Stephen Colbert, Trump played the same old hits, repeating the claims he has been making since the pandemic began and whining about how everyone was conspiring to deprive him of the office that he claims is rightfully his.