Donald Trump is expected to return to the campaign stage, if not the election campaign, on Saturday with a rally in Sarasota, Florida.
There are no national elections in the United States this year, but the former president maintains a grip on the Republican party ahead of the midterms of 2022 and is considering a presidential bid in 2024, despite legal issues in New York and elsewhere.
On Thursday, the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney for alleged tax evasion.
Trump accused prosecutors of being politically motivated, saying, “The Republican Party should not allow this to happen. It is a disgrace of the radical left for our country, and no one should stand up for it – not even the Democrats. Republicans must fight back. It will tear our country apart!
But his refusal to leave the political scene is seen by many as dangerously divisive. After coverage of the Sarasota event, Trump told his supporters he could be “seen on OAN and Newsmax” – two right-wing television networks.
The rally was billed as a celebration of July 4 with fireworks and is expected to draw several thousand people to a state that Trump has won by more than three points in 2020.
Trump lost that contest to Joe Biden by more than 7 million ballots nationwide and by 306-232 in the Electoral College, a decisive beating – which he called a landslide when she was in his favor against Hillary Clinton in 2016 – which he nevertheless claims was the result of electoral fraud.
It wasn’t, but Trump’s lie dominates the Republican Party, fueling the murderous assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and attempts in GOP-controlled states to limit access to ballots and facilitate the cancellation of election results.
This week, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he has decided whether or not to run again in 2024, saying, “This is not what I want. The country needs it. We have to take care of this country. It’s no fun fighting constantly, always fighting.
He also hinted at “an important announcement about his efforts to protect Americans’ First Amendment rights,” which he said he would make on his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Wednesday.
According to a Reuters poll, 53% of Republicans believe Trump won the election and attribute his loss to illegal voting. A quarter of the public thinks Trump won.
Earlier this week, Trump traveled to the US-Mexico border and accused Biden of neglecting national security. He held his first comeback rally last weekend in Wellington, Ohio, supporting the main challenge from a former White House aide to Anthony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan.6 attack – Trump’s second impeachment, a unique achievement.
Trump has vowed to campaign against the 10 House Republicans who voted to put him on trial in the Senate. Seven Republicans voted there for his guilt – not enough to condemn.
In Ohio, he brooded over old lines and repeated his lie about the election, says Utah Senator Mitt Romney of professional wrestling: “entertaining” but “not real.”
Many Republicans believe them. Ohio participant Gary Bartlett, 65 and a retired General Motors worker, told the Guardian he voted for the Democrats until he switched to Trump in 2016. He also said that the 2020 elections had been stolen.
“There was too much on TV showing polling stations and too many rumors,” he said. “When I drive in Ohio and other states, I see Trump signs everywhere. There’s no way Biden could have gotten so many votes.
Ahead of the rally in Florida, Jack Brill, president of the Sarasota County Republican Party, told Reuters he hoped Trump would galvanize supporters before the midterm and a race for governor during which a prominent supporter of Trump, Ron DeSantis, would run for a second term.
A significant number of Republican voters see DeSantis as an attractive option for 2024. The 42-year-old has been at the forefront of Republican-led battles against coronavirus lockdowns, protests for racial justice and access extended to ballot papers.
In a straw poll of potential 2024 candidates at a conservative conference in Denver in June, DeSantis finished ahead of Trump, 74% to 71%. DeSantis’ office said it was focusing on his re-election in Florida.
DeSantis will not attend Trump’s rally in Sarasota. His office said he planned to spend the weekend in Surfside, where rescuers spent more than a week searching for survivors in the rubble of a condominium collapse that left at least 22 dead and dozens of missing.