Presidential campaigns are supposed to be about the future, but the clear front-runner at this extremely early point in the 2024 cycle continues to look back to last year’s election.
At his first rally since leaving the White House in January, former President Trump on Saturday evening criticized his successor, claiming that “Joe Biden is destroying our nation right before our very eyes.”
And Trump told the crowd at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio that Max Miller’s an “incredible patriot” and a “great guy.” Miller was the reason Trump chose north central Ohio for the site of his return to the campaign trail.
Miller, a staunch supporter of the former president who served in the Trump White House, has launched a 2022 GOP primary challenge against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by extremists bent on disrupting congressional certification of now-President Biden’s Electoral College victory.
While Trump condemned Gonzalez as a “sellout” and a “disgrace,” he spent a good portion of his speech relitigating the 2020 presidential election.
The rally had the look and the feel of Trump rallies of past, but minus Air Force One and other official trappings of the presidency. The event was the first of bunch of public appearances in the coming weeks for Trump.
The former president teams up with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Wednesday at the southern border with Mexico, to take aim at Biden’s immigration policies. On July 3 he holds another rally – not tied to any 2022 midterm election races – in Sarasota, Florida. And on July 11 he’ll give the closing speech at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) confab in Dallas, Texas.
The resumption of campaign style and other events comes as the former president remains extremely popular among Republican base voters. He is aiming to play a kingmaker’s role in GOP politics as he flirts with another presidential run in 2024.
Trump’s rallies have been a key component of his political brand dating back to 2015, when he launched his first presidential campaign. The one-time reality TV star feeds off the energy of the large and loud crowds, tests new political material at his rallies, and his political team uses the events to collect vital contact information – such as email addresses and phone numbers – from his supporters.
Pence ‘proud’ to follow Constitution
Trump wasn’t the only potential 2024 Republican presidential contender spotlighting last year’s election.
So was former Vice President Mike Pence, the former congressman and Indiana governor who served four years as Trump’s loyal right hand man.
In a speech Thursday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Pence spent most of his address looking forward to the future of the GOP, as he also praised the accomplishments of the Trump-Pence administration.
But expanding on comments he first made earlier this month in a speech in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state of New Hampshire – when he said the he and Trump may never see “eye to eye” over Jan. 6 – the former vice president defended his actions during the attack on the Capitol.
Pence has been in a precarious position among some in the GOP base since the storming of the Capitol, when he and members of Congress was forced to move to secure rooms while the complex was attacked.
By following his Constitution duties overseeing the joint session of Congress instead of following Trump’s wishes and overturn the election results, Pence has endured the wrath of the former president and some of Trump’s most devout loyalists and supporters.
“Now, there are those in our party who believe that in my position as presiding officer over the joint session that I possess the authority to reject or return electoral votes certified by the states,” Pence said at the Reagan Library. “The Constitution provides the vice president with no such authority before the joint session of Congress.”
“And the truth is, there’s almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone,” the former vice president added, to applause from the audience.
But as he did during his New Hampshire speech, Pence also praised his former boss, saying that like Reagan, Trump also “disrupted the status quo…He challenged the establishment, invigorated our movement, and he set a bold new course for America in the 21st century. And now, as then, there is no going back.”
Pence has been crisscrossing the country the past couple of months, giving speeches and helping out fellow Republicans running in elections this year and next. The former vice president’s travels will bring him next month to Iowa – who’s caucuses kick off the presidential nominating calendar – as he speaks as a major social conservative organization’s annual summit.
Haley’s busy swing through Iowa
Nikki Haley is also pounding the pavement on the campaign trail as she helps out fellow Republicans.
The former South Carolina governor who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration on Saturday wrapped up a busy three-day swing through Iowa.
Haley kicked off her trip by keynoting the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Lincoln Day dinner and fundraiser in Des Moines on Thursday night. But she also headlined events for female elected officials with Iowa GOP co-chair Linda Upmeyer, for the Story County Republicans and the Young Republicans of Iowa, for state House Speaker Pat Grassley and the State House Caucus, and was the main attraction at fundraisers for Gov. Kim Reynolds and GOP members of Congress.
In her Iowa GOP address, Haley repeatedly praised Trump. “Thank goodness for Donald Trump, or we never would have gotten Kamala Harris to the border,” Haley said, as she zinged the vice president’s Friday trip to the U.S.-Mexican border less than a week before Trump’s visit.
Haley’s comments continue a trend of complimenting her former boss, after vilifying him immediately after the Capitol insurrection, when she said that Trump would “be judged harshly by history.”
Near the end of the fundraising dinner, Haley was asked by Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann whether Iowa should retain its status at the top of the nominating calendar.
“I’m fine with Iowa being first in the nation as long as you keep South Carolina first in the South primary,” Haley said.
“You mess with us, we’ll mess with you!,” she added to applause and laughter.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is the next potential 2024 Republican White House hopeful to pay a visit to one of the key early voting states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada).
Cotton will join Iowa’s two senators – Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst – at an state GOP reception and fundraiser in Sioux Center on Tuesday.