WELLINGTON, Ohio — Former President Trump made his triumphant return to the campaign trail and social media on Saturday night, receiving a rock star’s welcome from thousands who turned out in pro-Trump apparel to show their support for him, his claims of a stolen election and a possible comeback in 2024.
At the Lorain County fairgrounds west of Cleveland, Mr. Trump quickly launched into an attack of the Biden administration as “a complete and total catastrophe.”
He said Republicans must end Democrats’ control of the White House and Congress over the next two election cycles and “take back America.”
“With your help, we are going to beat the radical Democrats — and we are going to elect an amazing slate of proud ‘America First’ Republicans next year,” Mr. Trump said. “After just five months the Biden administration is already a complete and total catastrophe. Crime is surging, murders are soaring, police departments are being gutted, illegal aliens are overrunning our borders. Joe Biden is destroying our nation right before our very own eyes.”
Mr. Trump also reprised the poem “The Snake,” a staple of his early 2016 campaign, which he uses as a warning of rampant illegal immigration.
He said the “number one priority for everyone who wants to save America is to pour every single ounce of energy you have into winning a gigantic victory in the midterms and in 2024.”
Mr. Trump’s trip ostensibly was to endorse Republican Max Miller’s primary challenge against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the ten Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The event doubled as a chance for Mr. Trump to speak directly to a slice of the more than 74 million people who voted for him in the 2020 election — many of whom maintain the contest was marred by corruption and other fishy business.
As the crowd chanted “Trump won!,” the former president stoked hopes that he will run again in 2024.
“We won the election twice,” he said. “And it’s possible we’ll have to win it a third time.”
Mr. Trump also used the rally to re-establish his presence on social media, steaming the event on his new account on Rumble, a video platform rivaling YouTube that had 31.9 million members in the first quarter of this year. The former president has been banned from Twitter and Facebook since January over his role in the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The president pushed for election audits in battleground states that he lost last November, such as Arizona, where a GOP-ordered review is nearly complete.
“You have to know what took place in 2020 before you can vote in 2022 and 2024,” he said. “You have to look back. We’ll never stop fighting for the true results of the election. They [Democrats] used COVID to steal the election.”
Mr. Trump repeated his complaints about the 2020 election being “rigged” through expanded mail-in balloting, the use of drop boxes for ballots, and his allegation there were “more votes than voters” in Democratic bastions such as Philadelphia and Atlanta.
He said “incredible American patriots” who support him are still fighting for election audits in several battleground states.
“There’s mountains of evidence [of fraud],” Mr. Trump said. “Ballots were wheeled in through back doors in swing states days after the election.”
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania “are starting to take this very seriously,” Mr. Trump said, but he criticized “the RINOS in the Michigan senate” for upholding Mr. Biden’s win there.
To date, no court challenges or reviews have changed the election results in any state. The Arizona audit also won’t change the election outcome.
Mr. Miller took the stage earlier and said Mr. Gonzalez’s vote to impeach Mr. Trump is among a series of bad decisions. He said the incumbent has been weak on immigration and passed on the chance to support withdrawing troops from Syria.
Borrowing a page out of the Trump playbook, he slapped the incumbent with the nickname, “Turncoat Tony.”
“He is a big RINO,” Mr. Miller said. “Let’s ‘Make America Great Again’ - again.”
The rally came five months after a tumultuous end to the Trump presidency, and represents a new phase in which he has set his sights on taking out Republicans who backed impeachment and reasserts his role as leader of the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said the left-wing of the Democratic Party has lost its
mind, and said Mr. Trump blazed a path forward for the GOP by standing “up to the swamp” and following through on his promises to cut taxes, cut federal regulations and put conservative judges on the Supreme Court.
“You want him to run again in 2024,” Mr. Jordan told the crowd. “So do I.”
Claims of a rigged election were a theme of warm-up speakers. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, said Mr. Trump “should be our president right now.”
“But the dirty, rotten Democrats stole the election,” she told the crowd. “We have to get back in and take back the majority in ‘22.”
Mr. Trump sang the praises of Mr. Miller, a former White House aide.
“He loves our country, he loves the people of Ohio,” he said. Mr. Trump called Mr. Gonzalez “a grandstanding RINO” who voted for the “unhinged, unconstitutional impeachment witch hunt.”
Mr. Trump has made the occasional public appearance — including at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year — and has stayed engaged through interviews with conservative media outlets and press statements.
Mr. Trump’s calendar is starting to fill up.
He is scheduled to visit the Texas border on Wednesday, following a belated trip by Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday, to highlight what he sees as Mr. Biden’s immigration missteps. Then he will hold a rally over the July 4 weekend in Sarasota, Florida.
His return to action marks a departure from most of his successors, including Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, who kept a low profile most of the first year after leaving office.
“As is typical of Trump, [this is] completely distinct from other presidents in this respect,” said Gerhard Peters, co-creator of The American Presidency Project. “The only parallel I can think of would be the quite active role Theodore Roosevelt played in the 1910 midterm elections.”
Mr. Trump’s supporters, however, celebrated his return to campaigning. Some waited over a day to see him, while most waited hours in the heat to get through the security lines.
They echoed his stolen-election claims and his charge that Mr. Biden’s policies are hurting the nation’s economy, weakening border security and damaging the nation on the world stage.
“What we are seeing right now is a mess with the economy,” said Blanca Lugo. “We have lost respect in the world. The president that we have now is a puppet for China.”
“I think he is pro-American,” she said of Mr. Trump. “He loves America more than himself.”
Joann Passeno of Norwalk was among the many in attendance who said they are convinced the 2020 election was stolen.
“Yes, it was stolen,” the 51-year-old said, before taking aim at Mr. Biden. “How is it that a guy who was living in a basement was able to get more votes than Mr. Trump?”
Others held out hope that Mr. Trump could return to office sooner than the 2024 election, and said there is bubbling frustration in activist circles that they hope will not result in future violence.
Bryan Lindsay, 41, said he believes the controversial “forensic” audit playing out in Maricopa County, Arizona, will turn up enough evidence of wrongdoing that other probes will pick up speed in other states.
“It is my belief that the states can decertify the electoral votes and possibly turn the election back over to Trump,” he said. “I think it is going to happen pretty soon.”
“I believe he will be running in ‘24 no matter what, and he will win,” Mr. Lindsay said.
The rally came a day after news broke that the Trump Organization could face criminal charges stemming from an 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 as early as next week. Mr. Trump‘s personal lawyer confirmed the pending charges.
Mr. Trump and his supporters have cast the news aside as nothing more than an extension of the politically-motivated Democrat “witch hunt.”
His supporters showed at the rally that they’re still devoted to him. Some waited for hours in the heat, draped in Trump apparel and American flags.
One woman carried a “Trump Teddy Bear” and another man was decked out in a pair of Trump sneakers.
The streets leading to the event were lined with vendors hawking Trump apparel and flags that read everything from “[expletive] Joe Biden” to “Trump won,” “Trump 2024,” and “He will be back!”
Recounting his administration’s successes, Mr. Trump said the “rigged” election changed the country’s direction for the worse under Mr. Biden.
“All of it’s going down the tubes, because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” he said. “We were also right on Joe Biden and the Democrats’ extremism on open borders, on socialism, on taxes, on the Green New Deal.”
— Dave Boyer reported from Washington. This story is based in part on wire-service reports.