Former President Donald Trump is returning to the rally stage this weekend with his first campaign-style event since leaving the White House as he tries to make good on his pledge to exact revenge on those who voted for his historic second impeachment.
Trump’s event Saturday night at Ohio’s Lorain County Fairgrounds, not far from Cleveland, was being held to support Max Miller, a former White House aide who is challenging Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez for his congressional seat. Gonzalez was one of 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach Trump for his role in inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol building.
Trump wants them to pay.
Traffic was backed up from the fairgrounds into town, where pro-Trump signs dotted residents’ lawns. On street corners, vendors sold “Trump 2024” flags and other merchandise as supporters arrived.
The rally, held five months after Trump left office under a cloud of violence, marks the beginning of a new, more public phase of his post-presidency. After spending much of his time behind closed doors building a political operation and fuming about the last election, Trump is planning a flurry of public appearances in the coming weeks. He’ll hold another rally in Florida over the July Fourth weekend unattached to a midterm candidate and will travel to the southern border next week to protest President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
The rally also comes as Trump is facing immediate legal jeopardy. Manhattan prosecutors informed his company Thursday that it could soon face criminal charges stemming from a wide-ranging investigation into the former president’s business dealings. The New York Times, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported that charges could be filed against the Trump Organization as early as next week. Trump has denounced the investigations as nothing more than a “witch hunt” aimed at damaging him politically.
Although Trump remains a deeply polarizing figure, he is extremely popular with the Republican base, and candidates have flocked to his homes in Florida and New Jersey seeking his endorsement as he has tried to positioned himself as his party’s kingmaker.
Trump has said he is committed to helping Republicans regain control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections. But his efforts to support — and recruit — candidates to challenge incumbent Republicans who have crossed him put him at odds with other Republican leaders who have been trying to unify the party after a brutal year in which they lost control of the White House and failed to gain control of either chamber of Congress.
So far, nine of the 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment have drawn primary challengers. And Trump has offered to support anyone who steps forward to challenge the remaining candidate, Rep. John Katko of New York, syracuse.com reported.
“We’re giving tremendous endorsements,” Trump boasted Friday morning as he called into the conservative Newsmax channel and explained his endorsement rationale.
“Fake Republicans, anybody that voted for the impeachment doesn’t get it,” he said. “But there weren’t too many of them. And I think most of them are being, if not all, are being primaried right now, so that’s good. I’ll be helping their opponent.”
Gonzalez, a former college and professional football player, has stood by his impeachment vote in the face of fierce criticism from his party’s conservative wing, including his censure by the Ohio Republican Party.
At the same time, Trump continues to obsess over his ongoing efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he insists he won, even though top election officials, his own attorney general and numerous judges have said there is no evidence of the mass voter fraud he alleges.
On Monday, he told the conservative Real America’s Voice that he had never conceded the race or admitted defeat. And he publicly entertained the idea that he could somehow be reinstated into office, even though no legal or constitutional basis for doing so exists.
At the same time, he continues to tease the possibility that he will mount a comeback run for the White House in 2024. Aides say Trump, who was banned from Twitter and Facebook after Jan. 6, will make a decision after the midterms next fall.
Trump’s rallies have been an instrumental part of his political brand since he launched his 2016 campaign. The former reality star is energized by performing in front of his audiences and often test-drives new material and talking points to see how they resonate with the crowd. His political operation also uses the events to collect critical voter contact information from attendees and as fundraising tools.
And they have spawned a group of hardcore fans who traveled the country, attending dozens of rallies, often camping out overnight to snag prime spots. Some of those supporters began lining up outside the venue days early this week as they reunited for the event.