Former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE is set to resume his signature campaign rallies Saturday with an appearance in Wellington, Ohio, reviving a tool that helped gin up astonishing levels of enthusiasm for his presidential campaigns.
The event will ostensibly serve to support former White House aide Max Miller, a staunch Trump ally who is waging a primary challenge against Rep. Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezMcCarthy-allied fundraising group helps Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Trump endorses GOP challenger to Upton over impeachment vote The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand MORE (Ohio), one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president over his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. But Trump is also looking to use Saturday’s event and subsequent rallies to solidify his role as leader of the GOP.
Trump has appeared at various events as he resurfaces on the political scene, including speaking in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and earlier this month to the North Carolina GOP. Still, there are few events that are able to harness both the attention of the national media and the adoration of his followers as effectively as his raucous rallies.
“I think he’s going to come out swinging,” said a source familiar with the rally. “He’s very anxious to get back out there. We’re expecting some really big crowds, and he’s very motivated to be out there.”
The person said Trump will focus much of his rally on his push for election security — a continuation of his claims that the 2020 race was “stolen” from him — and stricter border policies, as well as issues like energy independence and spending under the Biden administration.
“He’s going to be hitting these major issues and the unwinding of a successful agenda,” the source said.
Trump will likely weave those points into the same kind of bombastic and stream-of-consciousness remarks that characterized previous rallies as he tests several messages amid speculation over a potential third White House bid in 2024.
The former president first proved the potency of campaign rallies in the 2016 cycle when he amassed jam-packed crowds across the nation. Such events helped propel him in a crowded Republican primary from being a real estate mogul who was largely scoffed at to the GOP nominee to finally commander in chief.
The effect of the rallies was amplified by mainstream media outlets that livestreamed the events to every corner of the country, helping form what became a surprisingly strong base of support in 2016 and 2020.
“I've never seen anything like it. I mean, I really haven't,” said one former Trump campaign official. “I never can remember before seeing people camp outside through horrible weather, whether it was in New Hampshire in the snow or Iowa in the snow or the heat, humidity and thunderstorms of Florida, camping out for days to see a political candidate.”
Trump is expected to try to replicate that level of buzz around his rallies, the second of which will take place in Sarasota, Fla., on July 3 and feature a fireworks show, according to the source familiar with the event.
Polls still show Trump maintains a high level of support among registered Republican voters, many of whom still look to his endorsement when deciding who to support in any given race. But Trump’s platform took a hit earlier this year when he was suspended from Twitter, Facebook and other websites over his election conspiracy theories that helped fuel the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The upcoming rallies, taking place after a six-month post-inauguration hiatus, represent a way for Trump to boost his presence with his supporters and reassert an ironclad grip on the GOP base.
“I think it has impacted his grip on the party, but that lasts only so long as he stays kind of quiet,” Republican strategist Bob Heckman said when asked about the effect of the social media bans. “Now that he's going out on the road and doing some rallies, and I suspect he'll be more prevalent in terms of news stories, doing Fox News interviews and stuff like that, I think that his influence will start to emerge again.”
The events also mark an opportunity for Trump to try to oust lawmakers from the GOP he views as disloyal and try to craft the party in his image.
More than a half-dozen Republicans interviewed by The Hill said it came as no surprise that his first rally is intended to benefit a primary challenger to a pro-impeachment House member.
Trump has forecasted that he will spend part of the 2022 cycle campaigning against Republican incumbents who supported efforts to oust him earlier this year. Besides Miller, Trump has also endorsed the top primary challenger to Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee Trump endorses GOP challenger to Upton over impeachment vote Businesses want Congress to support safe, quality jobs — so do nearly all Americans MORE (R-Alaska), with more endorsements expected in the coming weeks and months.
“It will be absolutely devastating to some,” GOP donor Dan Eberhart said, referring to Republican lawmakers who may be targeted by Trump. “We have not seen in modern times somebody with a bully pulpit the size of Trump's, with the popularity he has in either major party, plus the financial resources he has to bring to bear, come down on someone.”
It is precisely those kinds of intraparty feuds that have some Republicans worried about the upcoming rallies.
Republicans are close to flipping both chambers of Congress given Democrats’ razor-thin majorities there. However, GOP operatives say a messaging campaign that gets hijacked by Trump’s feuding with incumbents could derail those efforts, particularly given the former president’s outsized sway over the party.
“This will be a continuation of Donald Trump's traveling grievance tour. And there's certainly a receptive audience to that. But it will further stymie Republicans who want to focus on the Biden administration and train their sights there because they're going to have to deal with Donald Trump not allowing them to move forward,” said GOP strategist and former House leadership aide Doug Heye.
Despite the concerns, some Republicans maintain that Trump remains a potent messenger for the GOP and that, if handled properly, the rallies have the potential to be a boon heading into the midterms.
The former president helped fuel an expansion of the GOP base, bringing in waves of white voters without a college degree and increasing the Republican Party’s appeal among Black men and Hispanic voters.
And while the GOP suffered losses in the suburbs under the Trump administration, the former president’s appeal remained durable, handing him the second-highest vote total in presidential election history last year, behind only President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles MORE’s November haul.
Republicans say maintaining the coalition of voters Trump cobbled together will take his involvement, and that an absence from the campaign trail could produce a damaging drop off in turnout just as the GOP looks to regain a foothold in Washington.
“I think it's important for the party and for the Republican movement in general to continue to appeal to the kind of people he brought into the party, blue collar workers, cultural conservatives, people who were not energized by the party before Donald Trump,” Heckman said. “And that's the central challenge for any candidate and for the party in general, how do you include those people and get them to continue to be excited about being a Republican and getting Republican victories?”
However, to do that, Republicans say Trump must pair his personality with a consistent policy message — something he struggled to do in 2016 and 2020, particularly at his rallies.
“How many times have Republicans thought, ‘OK, we've had a good message for him to stay on,’ or ‘Donald Trump's turned over a new leaf,’ or what have you, and had that hope very quickly dissipated. That happened all the time,” Heye said. “Other than ‘I'm right, and everybody who disagrees with me is terrible,’ he will never stick to a message.”