Briefing

The return of the Trump rally

Trump is hosting a series of summertime campaign-style rallies, and some GOP leaders are worried

Former President Donald Trump has started a series of summertime campaign-style rallies. Now that he's out of office, what does Trump hope to gain?

What will these rallies look like?

If the first one is any indication, they will be familiar scenes. In a 90-minute speech to North Carolina Republicans at their annual convention at the end of May, Trump repeated his claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, calling it "the crime of the century." Trump said the 2020 vote was like a "third-world" election, even though his allegations have been rejected as false by numerous courts and Republican election officials in every red state he lost.  

Did he talk about anything else?

Yes, the former president threw plenty of red meat to his base during his North Carolina appearance. He occasionally made nostalgic remarks about his four years in the White House, but spent much of his time criticizing his successor, President Biden. "The Biden administration is pushing toxic critical race theory … into our nation's schools," Trump said. "Joe Biden and the socialist Democrats are the most radical Democrats in our nation's history." Trump hit on many of the themes from his 2020 Make America Great rallies, including his complaints about China, the media, and Big Tech companies, as well as the restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

What does Trump have to gain from these rallies?

Trump has always reveled in the approval of crowds at his big events, so many of Trump's advisers see this as the ideal way for Trump to emerge from his post-election retreat to Florida. Facebook and Twitter suspended Trump's social media accounts in January over his messages to supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, and Facebook just announced Trump's ban would remain in effect for two years. The rallies offer Trump a familiar and uncensored soapbox to get his message out now that other communication channels he once used are blocked.

Why is that so important?

Trump has largely faded from public view since leaving office. With his access to social media cut off, he tried to connect with his base with the launch of a blog, "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump," that was posted on his website, but he abruptly shut it down after less than a month because it drew little traffic. He has made public statements but they failed to generate the coverage he was used to as president. By energizing his base, Trump reportedly hopes to firm up his grip on the Republican Party. Insiders say he wants to boost GOP candidates in the 2022 midterms to help the party in its effort to reclaim control of the House and Senate from Democrats, and to keep his supporters firmly behind him if he decides to launch a comeback presidential campaign in 2024.

How many rallies will Trump do?

The full schedule hasn't been released, but he reportedly has two events planned for June, and wants to do a big rally on July 4. One of Trump's first appearances will be with former White House aide Max Miller in Ohio. Miller is running a primary challenge against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for a second time on the charge that he incited the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters. Events also are planned in Florida — home of Trump ally Gov. Ron DeSantis — and Georgia, a long-red state where Trump clashed with GOP election officials over his narrow loss to Biden. Trump senior adviser Jason Miller has said Trump also will make an appearance in Alabama, where he's backing Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) in his run to fill the retiring Sen. Richard Shelby's seat. Brooks was one of the Republicans who spearheaded the challenge against Biden's Electoral College win on Jan. 6, so the rally for him also is tied to Trump's push to punish those who accepted his election loss, and reward those who didn't.

What has the reaction been to Trump's reemergence?

Some Democrats think it will be a good thing for them, because they expect Trump to rant and turn off voters. Some GOP leaders are worried that Trump will hurt their chances of regaining control of the House and Senate if he tries to oust Republican incumbents who have displeased him and replace them with untested newcomers. Trump advisers have tried, futilely, to get him to shift his focus away from debunked election fraud claims and start concentrating on GOP priorities. One former Trump administration official said the former president's obsession with the 2020 election is making him less relevant. "It's like a slow leak of a balloon that is now laying on the floor," the former official said.

Could Trump really lose GOP support?

Some GOP strategists think so. "President Trump's insane conspiracy theories about the election cost Republicans the two Georgia Senate runoffs and with them, our seat at the table in Washington," said Michael Steel, a former aide to House speaker John Boehner and Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign. Trump's support among Republicans is strong, but has declined since Election Day. One NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in April found that 52 percent of Republicans considered themselves party members first, and 44 percent said they were Trump supporters first. In September, the same poll found that 53 percent saw themselves as Trump supporters above all else, while just 37 percent saw themselves as primarily GOP backers. 

Will that be enough to keep Trump in control?

It's working so far. Opposition to Trump got Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) ousted from her House GOP leadership position recently in a backlash over her criticism of Trump for his false claim that the election was stolen from him. The loyalty of Trump's supporters appears as strong as ever — he now has a third of Republicans believing he'll be reinstated in a few months. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said Trump has avoided the fate of other ex-presidents who were instantly diminished after losing bids for re-election. "He's big if the metric is that politicians are afraid of him, which is one metric of power in Washington," Beschloss said. "Many Republican leaders are terrified of him and abasing themselves in front of him." Trump adviser Jason Miller put it this way: "There are two types of Republicans inside the Beltway," Miller said. "Those who realize President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party and those who are in denial."

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