Donald Trump held his first rally since leaving the White House on Saturday night, addressing thousands of supporters in a freewheeling speech at a fairground in north-east Ohio that the former US president billed as the “very first rally of the 2022 election”.
“My fellow Americans, our movement is far from over,” Trump told throngs of his fans in Wellington, Ohio, a small, rural town 30 miles south-west of Cleveland. “In fact, our fight has only just begun.”
Trump, who has not ruled out running for president in 2024, repeated his false claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” in a rambling 90-minute speech in which he boasted about his administration’s achievements and tore into his successor Joe Biden.
“He puts America last. We put America first,” Trump said. “It’s very simple. Very, very simple.”
“We won the election twice,” Trump added, in a reference to both the 2016 and 2020 elections, before hinting at a possible third run at the White House: “And it’s possible we will have to win it a third time. It’s possible.”
Saturday’s “Save America” rally in Lorain county, Ohio — a region where white working-class voters once backed Barack Obama but have become increasingly conservative and pro-Trump in recent years — marked the former president’s return to the campaign trail after several months of relative silence.
He snubbed Biden’s inauguration and was banned from most major social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, after January 6, when mobs of his supporters stormed the US Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory. The riots left five people, including a Capitol police officer, dead.
Trump made little mention on Saturday of the January 6 siege, but continued to repeat his unsubstantiated claims that last year’s US elections were rife with fraud and rigged against him.
“You have to look back. We won the election in 2020. Who the hell knows what is going to happen in 2024?” the former president said to chants of “Trump won! Trump won!” from the audience.
Trump urged the crowds to back a slate of what he called “America First patriots” ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when control of the House of Representatives and the US Senate will be up for grabs.
Trump has endorsed several candidates ahead of Republican primary contests that are expected to be a key test of his enduring influence on the party’s voters.
On Saturday, he shared the stage with Max Miller, a former White House aide who is running against Anthony González, an incumbent Republican congressman from Ohio who was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in the January 6 riots. Trump has also endorsed Mike Carey, a Republican former coal lobbyist, in a special election to be held in a neighbouring congressional district later this year.
While Trump’s comeback rally was eagerly anticipated by many of his most ardent fans, Saturday’s event was sparsely attended by Republican lawmakers and other establishment figures.
Mike DeWine, Ohio’s Republican governor, declined to attend, as did Rob Portman, the Republican who represents the state in the US Senate who has said he will step down at the end of his term next year.
Trump was instead introduced on Saturday night by two of the most divisive members of Congress: Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ohio congressman Jim Jordan. Greene was ejected from her congressional committee assignments earlier this year over her endorsement of QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Trump’s comeback rally came just one day after it was reported that the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, could face criminal charges from Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance as soon as next week. Lawyers for Trump’s family business were warned of possible charges relating to the company’s accounting of fringe benefits on Thursday.