Donald Trump made his return to national politics on Saturday night at a county funfair in the small town of Wellington, Ohio, where residents lined the streets and decorated their homes in red, white and blue to celebrate the arrival of the former US president.
“Lorain County is absolutely in Donald Trump’s wheelhouse. It’s a place they love it, ”said Doug Deeken, Chairman of the Republican Party in neighboring Wayne County. “Whether they’re historic Democrats or historic Republicans or historical people who don’t care and have never hardly voted before, they love it.”
Political agents have said that Trump’s decision to hold his first The post-White House rally in Lorain County – an area west of Cleveland that includes both former steel mill towns and large swathes of rural farmland – was an obvious choice given the affinity of local white working-class voters for the former president. Despite his loss in the national election, Trump won the Midwestern state of Ohio in November eight points ahead of Joe Biden; he was the first Republican to win Lorain County since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Thousands of fans of the former president swarmed the fairground, decked out in pro-Trump merchandise and eager to tell reporters that the 2020 election was stolen from their favorite politician, whom they begged to run for again. the White House in 2024.
The former reality TV star, who hasn’t ruled out another White House candidacy and enjoys overwhelming popularity in most national polls of Republican voters, reveled in cheering crowds of “Trump won!” And “four more years”.
But he also had another reason to fly to northeast Ohio: revenge.
Trump shared the stage in Wellington with Max Miller, a former White House aide who issued a Republican primary challenge against Anthony Gonzalez, the outgoing local MP who was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the murderous insurgency of January 6. the US Capitol. Trump was later acquitted in a Senate trial after just seven Republicans in the upper house voted to convict him.
“Max’s opponent is a guy named Anthony Gonzalez,” Trump said to crowd boos, calling the congressman a “grand Rino” – Republican in name only.
“That’s not why I’m doing this, but I just thought I’d say it’s a trait that’s not so good. . . He is a bradeur, he is a false republican and a disgrace for your state, ”he added. “This is not the candidate you want to represent the Republican Party.”
Trump’s comments underscored the divisions marked in a Republican Party grappling with how to move forward under a Biden administration – and signaled the role the former president intends to play mid-term next year, when Republicans look to take over control of the two chambers of Congress.
He has already backed several Conservative candidates loyal to him – measures his allies say will energize the Republican base and critics warn they could alienate moderate voters who want to leave the uproar of the Trump era in the rearview mirror.
Support from more centrist voters is seen as essential in statewide races across the country, including in Ohio, where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine will seek re-election next year and a many Republicans are currently vying for the party’s nomination to replace the incumbent senator. Rob Portman. Neither DeWine nor Portman appeared alongside Trump on Saturday, citing personal obligations.
“There are Republicans who would prefer that [Trump] would be a kingmaker 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 the scene.”
Alex Roth, a Republican consultant working on campaigns in northeast Ohio, said most GOP candidates are now struggling to demonstrate their affinity for Trump.
“Republicans who are running in the primaries right now are showing up to show their loyalty to the president, and that shapes the way we run our campaigns,” he said.
The desire to curry favor with Trump was palpable on Saturday night, in the presence of all the Republican candidates for Portman’s Senate seat.
Trump has yet to approve a candidate in this race, but the campaign of Jane Timken, a former state party chairperson, has distributed flyers calling her “the only real pro-Trump candidate, America First.” At one point during his 90-minute free speech, the former president asked the crowds to cheer on the candidate they wanted him to support.
He is not without his detractors in the Ohio Republican establishment. John Kasich, the state’s former GOP governor and former presidential candidate, endorsed Biden ahead of last year’s election.
But few Ohio Republicans are prepared to publicly criticize 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 be successful, we can’t depend on any person or personality, and I worry if we get too bogged down in what is sometimes divisive. . . we’re going to end up with Georgia on our hands, ”he said, referring to the former southern Republican state which now has two democratic senators.
A Republican agent, who asked not to be named, said: “The party has to take into account that voters don’t vote just because of President Trump. They are voting because of what he has done. I think this post is sort of getting lost.
Another GOP insider, who also requested anonymity, said he was not a fan of Trump. But they conceded that the former president would inevitably play a big role in Republican politics.
“Are you going to ask a doctor what he thinks of the femur?” ” they asked. “Trump exists. It is part of the political reality of Republicans and Democrats alike. The phenomenon it creates is just something we have to deal with. You can’t take people’s thighbones out.
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