Politics|Trump, Seeking to Maintain G.O.P. Sway, Holds First Rally Since Jan. 6
The former president’s speech in Ohio, made on behalf of a challenger to a Republican congressman who voted to impeach Mr. Trump, reflected both his power over the party and his diminished status.
June 26, 2021
WELLINGTON, Ohio — Former President Donald J. Trump returned to the rally stage on Saturday evening after a nearly six-month absence, his first large public gathering since his “Save America” event on Jan. 6 that resulted in a deadly riot at the Capitol.
On Saturday, the same words — “Save America” — appeared behind Mr. Trump as he addressed a crowd of several thousand at a county fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland.
He repeated familiar falsehoods about fraudulent 2020 votes. He attacked Republican officials for refusing to back his effort to overturn the election results — including Representative Anthony E. Gonzalez of Ohio, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump, and whose primary challenger, Max Miller, was the reason for Mr. Trump’s visit. The former president praised Mr. Miller as they appeared onstage together.
Mr. Trump remains the most powerful figure in the Republican Party, with large numbers of G.O.P. lawmakers parroting his lies about a stolen 2020 election and fearful of crossing him, and many in the party waiting to see whether he will run again for the White House in 2024.
Yet in the audience and on the stage, the scene in Ohio on Saturday was reflective of how diminished Mr. Trump has become in his post-presidency, and how reliant he is on a smaller group of allies and supporters who have adopted his alternate reality as their own. One of the event’s headliners was Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the far-right Republican who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Mr. Trump’s speech — low-key, digressive and nearly 90 minutes long — fell flat at times with an otherwise adoring audience. Scores of people left early as he bounced from topic to topic — immigration, Israel, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s protective mask.
“Do you miss me?” Mr. Trump asked in one of his biggest applause lines. “They miss me,” he declared.
In interviews, many in the crowd expressed steadfast belief in Mr. Trump’s election falsehoods, and indulged his rewriting of history on the Capitol mob attack.
Tony Buscemi, 61, a small-business owner from West Bloomfield, Mich., who stood with his daughter, Natalie, in the sun-baked field where Mr. Trump spoke, said he had been at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and he claimed falsely that it had been a “mostly peaceful” gathering.
“People were praying. People were singing,” Mr. Buscemi said, adding that he might have gone inside the building himself had his daughter not persuaded him that it was a bad idea. “There was no insurrection,” he insisted. “I didn’t see anything wrong with it.”
Polling suggests that most Republicans remain skeptical of President Biden’s election victory. Thirty-six percent of Republicans said in a Monmouth University poll released on Monday that Mr. Biden had won the election fairly, while 57 percent said his victory was the result of fraud.
Still, there is evidence that Mr. Trump’s influence over Republican voters is waning — though only slightly.
In late April, 44 percent of Republicans and G.O.P.-leaning independents said in an NBC News poll that they were more supportive of Mr. Trump than of the party itself. A slightly higher share, 50 percent, said they were more apt to support the party.
It was the first time since NBC pollsters began asking the question in early 2019 that as many as half of Republicans said they were more supportive of the party than of the man.
Giovanni Russonello contributed reporting.