Donald Trump returns to campaign trail with rally targeting Ohio Republican

As New York legal troubles mount, ex-president hints at 2024 run and targets those who voted for impeachment

Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail with a rally in Ohio on Saturday night, campaigning against a Republican who voted for his impeachment and trailing his own candidacy for president in 2024.

Trump repeated his baseless election 2020 grievances and painted a dystopian picture of the country under Democratic control, while in another echo the past, the crowd chanted “Lock her up” at the mention of Hillary Clinton, the Democrat he defeated in 2016.

The rally outside Cleveland on Saturday was to support Max Miller, a former White House aide challenging Anthony Gonzalez, a former college football and NFL star censured by his state party for voting for Trump’s impeachment.

While he praised Miller as an “incredible patriot” and a “great guy” who “loves the people of Ohio,” Trump spent much of the rally fixating on the 2020 election, which he insists he won. This is despite top state and local election officials, his own attorney general and numerous judges, including some he appointed, saying there is no evidence of the mass voter fraud he alleges took place.

“The 2020 presidential election was rigged,” he told the crowd, which at one point broke into a “Trump won!” chant. “We won that election in a landslide.”

When Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Republican from Georgia known for her incendiary rhetoric, asked the crowd who their president is, they boomed loudly, “Trump!”

“President Trump is my president, too,” she said.

The event had many of the trappings of the rallies Trump held as a candidate and as president. There was the eclectic playlist, the same stage design, and many familiar volunteers.

In the lead-up to the event, Trump told the conservative Newsmax channel: “We’re giving tremendous endorsements.”

“Fake Republicans, anybody that voted for the impeachment doesn’t get it. But there weren’t too many of them. And I think most of them are being … primaried right now, so that’s good. I’ll be helping their opponent.”

Trump’s first impeachment, for abusing his power in approaches to Ukraine, attracted one Republican vote, that of the Utah senator Mitt Romney. In his second, for inciting the deadly US Capitol attack, 10 House Republicans and seven in the Senate voted for Trump’s guilt.

Trump was acquitted twice but banned from major social media platforms over his role in the Capitol attack. Regardless, he dominates the Republican party.

All bar one of the House Republicans who voted against him have attracted challengers. The 10th, John Katko of New York, co-authored a proposal for an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the 6 January attack on Congress, in which a mob roamed the Capitol, looking for lawmakers to capture or kill in an attempt to overturn the election. Senate Republicans blocked it.

By Saturday afternoon, 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.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right congresswoman from Georgia who was stripped of her committee assignments over a number of extreme comments, mingled with attendees and took pictures.

Marjorie Taylor Greene talks with supporters at the Lorain County Fairgrounds.
Marjorie Taylor Greene talks with supporters at the Lorain County Fairgrounds. Photograph: Tony Dejak/AP

Trump has said he “didn’t win” the election but has not formally conceded defeat by Joe Biden and continues to voice his lie that the loss was the result of electoral fraud.

On Friday he told Newsmax he would be “making an announcement in the not too distant future” about whether he will run again, and said supporters were “going to be thrilled” by election results in 2024.

“We want a little time to go by, maybe watch what happens in [2022],” he said.

In those midterm elections, Republicans hope to retake the House and Senate.

Trump’s legal problems mounted on Friday, as his own lawyer confirmed that charges are likely in the investigation of the Trump Organization by the Manhattan district attorney. The company’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and the company itself are in prosecutors’ sights.

Many observers point out that Trump’s many legal problems did not stop him winning the presidency in 2016 and are unlikely to put off many Republican voters should he run for the White House again.

In his Newsmax interview, the former president referred to his problems and to those affecting Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer and loyal ally. The former New York mayor this week saw his law license suspended, over his advancement of Trump’s election fraud lie.

“Right now,” Trump said, “I’m helping a lot of people get into office, and we’re fighting the deep state, and we’re fighting [the] radical left. “They’re after me, They’re after Rudy, they’re after you, probably. They’re after anybody.”

The “deep state” conspiracy theory holds that a permanent government of bureaucrats and operatives exists to thwart Trump. Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016 then a White House strategist and chief propagator of the theory, has said it is “for nut cases”.

A drone photo shows crowds gathering in Wellington, Ohio.
A drone photo shows crowds gathering in Wellington, Ohio. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“They’re vicious,” Trump went on, “and they don’t do a good job and they’re very bad for the country … But I’ve been fighting them for five and a half years.

“Since I came down the escalator [at Trump Tower in New York in June 2015, to announce his run for president], I’ve been fighting them. These are vicious people … I honestly believe they don’t love this country.”

Trump has spent much of his post-presidency at his Florida resort and his golf course in New Jersey. He also told Newsmax he was “working very hard not only for 2024, but we’re working very hard to show the corruption of what took place in 2020, and then we see what happens”.

Trump’s rallies have been an instrumental part of his brand since he launched his 2016 campaign. The former reality star often test-drives new material and talking points to see how they resonate with crowds. His political operation uses the events to collect critical voter contact information and as fundraising tools.

The rallies have spawned hardcore fans who traveled the country, often camping out overnight to snag prime spots. Some such supporters began lining up outside the Ohio venue days early this week.


Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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