It was Trump’s first rally since the espionage case against him blew wide open… so you can imagine the candidates he was pretending to be there for— Dr. Oz and Doug Mastriano, both of whom are struggling badly to stay competitive— would get short shrift. And they did Elaine Godfrey, who was there, described “a kind of manic, vengeful energy” circulating among the crowds of extreme-MAGAts. And revving up the crowd for Trump as Marjorie Traitor Greene, who this audience loved, even if normal Pennsylvania voters do not.
Trump, of course was happy to play up his latest grievance. “There can be no more real example of the very clear threats to American freedom than just a few weeks ago we witnessed one of the most shocking abuses of power we have witnessed from any administration in American history!” He’s back! The many GOP strategists are pulling out their hair. Just 2 months before Election Day, he’s doing exactly what the Democrats want him to do: taking the state and making the whole election about himself. A new poll from YouGov this week showed that 55% of registered voters approve of the FBI investigation and just 36% disapprove— basically the deranged MAGAts like the ones at the rally last night. Most registered voters thought the raid on Mar-a-Lago was justified. 47% of registered voters say Trump should face criminal charges and just 39% say he shouldn’t. (29% think the FBI planted the documents and 54% think that’s another false Trump accusation with no basis. Only 29% of registered voters expect Trump to run for president in 2024. As for favorability of individuals (among registered voters)…
Trump- 42% favorable, 53% unfavorable
Biden- 46% favorable, 51% unfavorable
Kamala- 40% favorable, 53% unfavorable
Pelosi- 39% favorable, 54% unfavorable
McCarthy- 26% favorable, 46% unfavorable (Who’s that?- 28%)
McConnell- 20% favorable, 64% unfavorable
Schumer- 33% favorable, 45% unfavorable
Pence- 33% favorable, 53% unfavorable
Trump is, just two months ahead of the midterm elections back at the forefront of Americans politics— exactly where the Democrats want him. Ostensibly, the rally yesterday was intended to give a boost to the flagging campaigns of extremist gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and the Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, “both of whom have endorsed Trump’s election lies and received his endorsement in exchange. Just two days ago, Biden warned that “Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.” Godrey wrote that “Trump and the candidates he’s endorsed are a threat to democracy because they appear to believe in only two kinds of election outcomes: Either they win or the system is rigged. Pennsylvania has become a hub for ‘Stop the Steal’ candidates thanks, in part, to Mastriano, who spoke ahead of Trump on Saturday night. The Republican state senator and former Army colonel was outside the Capitol when rioters broke in on January 6; he helped lead the state efforts to overturn the presidential election in 2020; and he’s been subpoenaed by the January 6 committee for his alleged involvement in organizing an alternate set of Electoral College electors for Trump. (Last week, Mastriano sued the panel to avoid testifying.) Both he and Oz offered versions of their stump speeches and declared solidarity with their party leader in his moment of need on Saturday. Other headliners included Greene, the Georgia representative who’d descended the arena steps earlier in the afternoon as “She’s a Beauty” by the Tubes played over the loudspeakers, and the Pennsylvania congressional candidate Jim Bognet, who quipped that America should hire ’87,000 more border patrol agents, not IRS agents!’ When Trump emerged shortly after 7 p.m., backed by the usual Lee Greenwood soundtrack, he meandered through his standard repertoire: the Russia investigation ‘hoax,’ Biden’s failures, the death penalty for drug dealers. He even managed to encourage a mass heckling of the press seated in the back of the stadium on at least five occasions. But it was Trump’s FBI comments that got the crowd most riled up. ‘The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical-left scoundrels, lawyers, and the media, who tell them what to do,’ he told them. Audience members whooped, and a few shouted out ‘Defund the FBI!’”
I detected a touch of desperation in many people’s responses—a sense that, if Trump-endorsed candidates don’t win in November, America as they know it will cease to exist. Here in northeast Pennsylvania— just 20 miles down the road from Biden’s hometown— was a gathering of people not just pessimistic about the future of the country under his leadership, but deeply fearful too. “At this point right now, I’m worried about being targeted by the FBI because I’m a Christian, I’m conservative,” Pat Rutherford said. “I know they won’t find anything, but I am going to need a lawyer to prove I am innocent.” The DOJ “is like a militia for the Democrats,” Linda Hess, from Selinsgrove, told me. “I think our First Amendment rights are basically gone as conservatives. I really do.”
Trump and his loyalists are eager to fan these fears. “Your president called all of you extremists!” Greene told the rally when she was on stage. “Joe Biden has declared that half of this country are enemies of the state!” (The president, in fact, made a clear distinction: “Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans.”) “Save us, Trump!” one woman yelled from the crowd during his speech.
Fear can be a winning political tactic. It helped candidates like Mastriano sail to victory in the Republican primary. But general elections are different. The president’s party usually fares poorly in the midterms cycle, and just a few weeks ago, the fundamentals would have indicated that Republicans were about to have an excellent November. Recently, though, the numbers have shifted in the Democrats’ favor. Inflation is down, and so are gas prices; new job numbers are high, and unemployment is still low; and Democrats are already seeing signs that their voters are highly motivated by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In the latest polls, both Mastriano and Oz are trailing their respective Democratic opponents, Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman.
…Whether these specific candidates win or lose, election denial has become the most important litmus test for the MAGA base. ‘Stop the Steal’ is an expression of a deepening distrust in government and institutions— a mantra to remind its adherents that they, not their political opponents, are the rightful inheritors of America. The phrase is a metaphor, the sociologist Theda Skocpol told me last month, “for the country being taken away from the people [white] who think they should rightfully be setting the tone.”
When their candidates lose, it can be only through trickery. When their leader is investigated for squirreling away cartons of national secrets at his country club, it’s a targeted attack by the “Regime,” to use Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’s word— and capitalization.
When he wasn’t singing the praises of Putin— "fierce and smart”— and Xi— “rules with an iron fist”— he was falsely accusing John Fetterman of using drugs. “Fetterman supports taxpayer-funded drug dens and the complete decriminalization of illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, and ultra lethal fentanyl. By the way, he takes them himself.” You can contribute to Fetterman's campaign here.
Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from near where Trump was speaking— who detests Trump— went on the new right-wing TV network CNN and said “Most Republican candidates don’t want anything to do with Donald Trump in this general election. They want this to be about Joe Biden and the Democrats, but to the extent Trump inserts himself into this conversation, he’s giving the Democrats a major gift right now… I am not so sure that the former President Trump did anyone any good with that speech tonight. Just by showing up in Pennsylvania, he is making the election much more about himself… Mehmet Oz I don’t think wants to be anywhere near Donald Trump in this fall election. It doesn’t do him any good. He needs to win swing voters and independents and some Democrats, and it’s hard to do that when Trump is really just playing and pandering to the base.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer agreed. “While the speech was billed as a rally to help Pennsylvania’s top GOP candidates, Mehmet Oz, for Senate, and State Sen. Doug Mastriano, for governor, Trump spent most of his two-hour address airing his old personal grievances, and some new ones. He briefly mentioned Oz and Mastriano, before immediately pivoting to his anger at Biden, and the recent FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home as they tried to recover classified documents. He called it an ‘evil and demented persecution of you and me.’ It took about 80 minutes for Trump to return to the GOP candidates on the ballot this year.”