Donald Trump made his return to the national political scene Saturday night at a county fairground in the small town of Wellington in Ohio, where residents had lined the streets and decorated their homes in red, white and blue. to celebrate the arrival of the former American president.
“Lorain County is absolutely at the helm of Donald Trump. It’s a place where they hold him dear, ”said Doug Deeken, president of the Republican Party in neighboring Wayne County.“ Whether they’re historic Dems or historic Republicans or historic people who haven’t given a shit and never have voted just before, he likes it. “
Political agents said Trump’s decision to hold your first post-White House demonstration in Lorain County – a region west of Cleveland that includes both old steel cities and vast expanses of rural farmland – was an obvious choice given the affinity of local white working class voters for the former president. Despite losing the national election, Trump defeated the New State of Ohio in November by eight points over Joe Biden; he was the first Republican to win Lorain County since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Thousands of fans of the former president have flocked to the fairgrounds, enriched by pro-Trump merchandise and anxious to tell reporters that the 2020 elections have been stolen from his favorite politician, who has implored him to run again. to the White House in 2024.
The only reality TV star, who has not ruled out another White House bid and enjoys overwhelming popularity in most national polls of Republican voters, has been delighted by the applause of the crowd of “Trump has won!” and “four more years.”
But he also had another reason to fly to northeastern Ohio: revenge.
Trump shared the stage in Wellington with Max Miller, a former White House aide who launched a Republican primary challenge against Anthony Gonzalez, the incumbent local deputy who was one of 10 House Republicans who voted for him. accusing him of inciting the January 6 deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Trump was next acquitted in a Senate trial after only seven Republicans in the upper house voted to convict him.
“Max’s opponent is a guy named Anthony Gonzalez,” Trump said out loud from the crowd, calling Congress a “grand Rino” – only in the Republican name.
“It’s not the reason why I do that, but I just thought to say, it’s a character show that’s not that good…. He’s a salesman, he’s a fake Republican, and a shame for your state.” he added. “He’s not the candidate you want to represent the Republican party.”
Trump’s comments have highlighted strong divisions in the Republican Party struggling with how to move forward under the Biden administration – and signaled the role the former president intends to play in the interim terms next year, when Republicans seek to regain control of both chambers of Congress.
He has already endorsed several Conservative candidates who are loyal to him – allied movements say they will energize the Republican base and critics warn they could alienate moderate voters who want to leave the Trump-era tumult in the background.
The support of more centrist voters is seen critically in state elections across the country, including in Ohio, where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine will seek re-election next year and a vast field of Republicans is fighting for nomination of the party to replace the retiring senator. Rob Portman. Neither DeWine nor Portman appeared alongside Trump Saturday, citing personal obligations.
“There are Republicans who prefer that [Trump] he would be a king and not the king himself for the future, “said Bryan Williams, former president of the Ohio Republican Party. But he added:” It’s not a very large number of people who think Trump should leave. from the scene. “
Alex Roth, a Republican consultant working on campaigns in northeastern Ohio, said most GOP candidates were now struggling to demonstrate their affinity for Trump.
“Republicans participating in the primaries right now are in the race to show their loyalty to the president, and it’s changing the way we run our campaigns,” he said.
The desire to win favor with Trump was palpable Saturday night, with all Republican contenders for the Portman Senate sign in attendance.
Trump did not even have the support of a candidate in that race, but the campaign of Jane Timken, former president of the state party, distributed leaflets calling her “the only true pro-Trump candidate, America First.” At one point during his 90-minute free speech, the former president asked the crowd to cheer the candidate they wanted him to support.
It’s not without his critics at the Ohio Republican establishment. John Kasich, a former GOP state governor and one-time presidential candidate, approved Biden ahead of last year’s election.
But few Republicans in Ohio are willing to go to the polls criticizing the former president, illustrating the long shadow he continues to cast over the party and its future.
Brad Kastan, a longtime Columbus-based Republican donor, is a rare exception.
“For Conservatives and Republicans to succeed, we can’t be dependent on a single person, or a personality, and I worry if we’re too embroiled in what is sometimes divisive… We’re going to end up with a Georgia to our hands, ”he said, referring to the former Republican southern state of yesteryear two Democratic senators.
A Republican spokesman, who asked not to be named, said: “The party must consider the fact that voters do not vote just because of President Trump. They vote because of the things he has done. I think that this message is lost a little. “
Another GOP insider, who also asked for anonymity, said they were not a fan of Trump. But they admitted that the former president would inevitably play a major role in Republican politics.
“Are you going to ask a doctor what they think of the femur?” they asked. “Trump exists. He’s part of the political reality for both Republicans and Democrats. The phenomenon he creates is just something we’re going to deal with. You can’t turn it around to cut people’s thighs.”
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