Donald Trump reprised baseless election fraud claims and hinted at a run for office in 2024 in his first campaign-style rally since leaving the White House.
The former president’s event at Ohio’s Lorain County Fairgrounds on Saturday night was held to support Max Miller, a former White House aide who is challenging Republican representative Anthony Gonzalez for his congressional seat.
Mr Gonzalez was one of 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to impeach Mr Trump for his role in inciting the deadly 6 January riot at the Capitol building.
In his remarks on Saturday, Mr Trump revisited false claims from his fruitless challenges of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
He said of election night: “On the evening of 3 November the election was over and then all of a sudden things started closing down all over.
“We took a massive victory, they did, into something that should never be allowed.”
The former president was in fact describing a legitimate vote counting process that saw Mr Biden take the lead as the night wore on.
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Trump administration officials and top officials in Republican-led states affirmed the validity of the election outcome.
In another echo of the past, the crowd chanted “Lock her up” at the mention of Hillary Clinton, the Democrat he defeated in the presidential race in 2016.
Traffic was backed up from the fairgrounds into town, where pro-Trump signs dotted residents’ lawns.
Vendors sold “Trump 2024” flags and other merchandise on street corners as supporters arrived.
The rally, held five months after Mr Trump left office, marks the beginning of a new, more public phase of his post-presidency.
After spending much of his time behind closed doors building a political operation and fuming about the last election, Mr Trump is planning a flurry of public appearances in the coming weeks.
He will hold another rally in Florida over 4 July weekend, unattached to a midterm candidate, and will travel to the southern border in the coming week to protest Mr Biden’s immigration policies.
The rally also came as Trump faces immediate legal jeopardy.
Manhattan prosecutors informed his company on Thursday that it could soon face criminal charges stemming from a wide-ranging investigation into the former president’s business dealings.
The New York Times, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported that charges could be filed against the Trump Organization within days.
Mr Trump has denounced the investigations as nothing more than a “witch hunt” aimed at damaging him politically.
Although Mr Trump remains a deeply polarizing figure, he is extremely popular with the Republican base, and candidates have flocked to his homes in Florida and New Jersey seeking his endorsement.
Mr Trump has said he is committed to helping Republicans regain control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.
But his efforts to support – and recruit – candidates to challenge incumbent Republicans who have crossed him put him at odds with other Republican leaders who have been trying to unify the party after a brutal year in which they lost control of the White House and failed to gain control of either chamber of Congress.
So far, nine of the 10 House Republicans who voted for Mr Trump’s impeachment have drawn primary challengers. And Mr Trump has offered to support anyone who steps forward to challenge the remaining candidate, Rep. John Katko of New York, syracuse.com reported.
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Mr Trump boasted Friday morning as he called into the conservative Newsmax channel and explained his endorsement rationale: “We’re giving tremendous endorsements.
“Fake Republicans, anybody that voted for the impeachment doesn’t get it.
“But there weren’t too many of them. And I think most of them are being, if not all, are being primaried right now, so that’s good. I’ll be helping their opponent.”
Mr Gonzalez, a former college and professional football player, has stood by his impeachment vote in the face of fierce criticism from his party’s conservative wing, including his censure by the Ohio Republican Party.
Mr Trump also tease the possibility he will mount a comeback run for the White House in 2024.
Aides say Mr Trump, who was banned from Twitter and Facebook in January, will make a decision after the midterms at the end of next year.