WELLINGTON, Ohio — Donald Trump’s first MAGA rally since leaving the White House was billed as a takedown of one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the then-president’s impeachment following the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots.
“He’s a sell out and fake Republican,” Trump said of Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez as he boosted his own former aide and 16th district candidate Max Miller. But Trump’s apparent laser focus on getting even for past slights was short-lived.
Instead, he delivered a red-meat speech to thousands of die-hard fans who crowded the Lorain County fairgrounds in rural northeast Ohio and were eager to hear the ex-president deliver lines they have heard for years.
Over the course of a winding but largely familiar speech, Trump took aim at political enemies, aired a long list of grievances, waxed poetic about his time in the Oval Office, and entertained a lineup of right-wing figures who helped him fan conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
Tony Hocevar, a longtime supporter from the Cleveland area, said he wanted to hear Trump talk about “the same stuff — just more of it.”
For over an hour, Trump took aim at the Biden administration’s policies on immigration and Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to the southern border, and, without saying his name, slammed Gen. Mark Milley and “woke generals” over their comments about critical race theory. He revived chants of “lock her up!” about Hillary Clinton and read the poem “The Snake,” a fan favorite from the 2016 campaign trail.
“The subject matter is somewhat depressing, because what happened in November should have never have happened,” Trump said. "They used Covid to steal the election."
The crowds were sympathetic to Trump and eager to hear him announce another run for president. Each of the over half-a-dozen rallygoers interviewed said they wanted Trump to signal he plans to run for a third time in 2024.
“I hope he’s either looking to run, or run for Speaker of the House,” said Richard Stachurski, referring to a rumor circulating among Trump supporters that Trump could potentially run and win a House race, then take over as Speaker.
Thousands of supporters, some in T-shirts that read "Trump 2024," and "Trump is my President," packed in hours before Trump took the stage. But as his speech went on for over an hour, supporters trickled out — some had grown frustrated after a jumbotron did not show a live video of the speech.
Before Trump took the stage, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was greeted with a standing ovation and met with a roar of cheers when she called on infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci to be fired.
“Lock him up! Lock him up!” the crowd yelled.
“Let me ask you a question — who is president?” Greene said. “Trump! Trump! Trump!” the crowd called back.
Rallygoers clamored for selfies with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has pushed false theories about election fraud and is being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems for his claims the company rigged the election.
And in an unusual kick off to a political rally, a Cincinnati-area math teacher, Douglas Frank gave a PowerPoint presentation with charts and numbers meant to convince the crowd he has data to back up untrue claims of widespread, coordinated election fraud. The crowd sat quietly as he clicked through his slide show.
Before the rally, Trump attended a VIP reception and fundraiser in support of Miller attended by high-profile donors and Republican Senate primary candidates eager to secure an endorsement.
Jane Timken, the former Ohio GOP chairwoman, flew a plane with a banner that read “Ohio is Trump Country” and passed out flyers that said she is the “Only True Pro-Trump America First Candidate,” with a list of all the ways she has supported Trump.
Trump, who has been advised not to make an endorsement yet in the crowded Senate GOP primary, acknowledged every candidate by name but avoided offering any his stamp of approval.
Instead he polled the audience. "Who likes Jane Timken? Who likes Josh Mandel? Who likes Gibbons?" (Trump forgot to name Bernie Moreno in the audience poll.)
Next week, a fifth candidate could enter the race: J.D. Vance, the author of "Hillbilly Elegy," who was at the rally and said he will be making an announcement next week about his decision to run.