In a characteristically combative speech to more than 15,000 die-hard supporters in Florence, former President Donald Trump resumed his attacks on President Joe Biden, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the news media to resounding support.
The visit, Trump’s first rally of 2022 and his second trip to Arizona since leaving office, gave the former president a chance to renew his grievances and cast his four years in office as a period of unprecedented prosperity and security.
Early in his remarks, Trump cast Biden’s administration as an unfolding disaster and continued his baseless claims of widespread election fraud in 2020.
“I love Arizona. We had a tremendous victory in Arizona that was taken away. … We had a rigged election. … (The media) refuse to talk about it. The Big Lie is a lot of bull—-. That’s what it is.
“Biden has utterly humiliated our nation,” Trump said, saying that Russia and China’s leaders no longer respect or fear America.
Trump, who may run for president again in 2024, said the past year under Biden has been a “disaster,” but said there would be a good political end to the “catastrophe” at the outset of the new year.
“A great red wave is going to begin right here in Arizona, and it’s going to sweep across this country,” Trump said near the end of his 93-minute speech. After Trump ended his remarks, the speakers blared Sam and Dave’s 1966 hit “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”
His message was an updated version of Trump’s usual America-first rhetoric, long on personal boasts and lacking in subtlety.
“The country is being destroyed,” he said after citing rising inflation and the nation’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Our country is being totally destroyed.”
Trump called the COVID-19 response under Biden a disaster, from vaccine mandates to testing shortages.
“I’m proud I was the anti-mandate president,” Trump said. “We gave Biden every tool he could want. … He’s incapable.”
Trump kept much of his speech focused on Biden, noting the president’s dismal approval ratings and accusing him of being clueless on tackling the nation’s current problems.
WATCH VIDEO – FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP SPEAKS AT THE SAVE AMERICA RALLY IN FLORENCE, AZ:
Trump repeated his criticism of former ally Gov. Ducey, the fellow Republican who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.
“He’s not going to get my endorsement,” Trump said of Ducey. “Ducey has been a terrible, terrible representative of your state.”
While Trump has already offered his coveted endorsement in several Arizona Republican races, such as Kari Lake for governor and Mark Finchem for secretary of state, he again left open his preferred challenger for Kelly, whom he described as an “ultra-leftist.”
Trump repeated his hope that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich would take action on the state Senate’s review of Maricopa County ballots, even though that recount didn’t find or claim widespread fraud.
And Trump name-checked GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters, perhaps signaling who is best positioned for his eventual support.
Before Trump took the stage, loyalists such as U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Lake repeatedly assailed Biden, continuing to insist on baseless claims that Trump won the 2020 election, and looked ahead to a GOP takeover of Congress later this year.
“The America First movement is alive and well,” Lake told the Canyon Moon Ranch crowd. “And you know what? It is the only way out of the mess we’re in right now.”
Often using extreme language, the Trump allies took assorted shots at familiar conservative targets such as Biden, his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, and the media while repeating false claims of election fraud and waxing nostalgic for the Trump presidency.
“We can’t wait any longer: We must fight to restore our freedoms from the fascistic Biden regime and its corporate sponsors,” Biggs said. “We demand freedom, freedom to live in safety under the rule of law applied equally to every person. We demand freedom from inflation caused by out-of-control government spending. We demand freedom of medical choice, not mandates from unelected government bureaucrats.”
WATCH 62 PHOTOS OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMPS RALLY IN FLORENCE, ARIZONA:
The Democratic National Committee pre-emptively cast Trump as the real disaster.
“It might be a new year, but we all know we’re going to get the same Donald Trump. Let there be no mistake, the Republican Party has surrendered to Donald Trump’s stranglehold and fully embraced him no matter the cost to our democracy or Americans’ lives,” DNC spokesperson Adonna Biel said in a written statement.
“Tonight’s rally will serve as little more than a reminder of the chaos and extremism of today’s Republican Party, and why 81 million Americans rejected Donald Trump in 2020 to elect President Biden, Vice President (Kamala) Harris.”
Democrats, Biel said, “have led the fastest economic recovery in history, delivered a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to repair Arizona’s roads and bridges, gotten Americans vaccinated and helped create over 6 million jobs.”
In a departure from his past Arizona speeches, Trump ignored the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who remained a target of Trump’s ire even after his 2018 death.
But as he often has, Trump aimed some of his harshest words at those in his own party.
He mockingly dismissed Republicans who have been critical of him. That included U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who lost her leadership position last year after criticizing Trump over the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot and joined the House select committee investigating the 2021 attack.
Saturday’s rally came not long after the anniversary of the riot by a pro-Trump mob seeking to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
Republicans seem eager to move past that violence, but others are less willing to do so. Trump abruptly ended a recent interview with National Public Radio when faced with questions about the riot.
The select committee continues to ratchet up its effort to understand the activities of Trump and his allies in the days before, during and after the riot. It has sought to question House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who quickly rebuffed the panel.
“Jan. 6 has become the Democrat Party’s excuse to justify an unprecedented assault on American civil rights and liberties,” Trump said. He decried the treatment of those arrested in connection with the insurrection, calling it an “appalling persecution of political prisoners.”
He called their continued confinement “brutal lockdowns.”
Trump called the police officer who killed Ashli Babbitt, the California woman who was climbing through a barricaded door outside House offices, “a dope.”
Trump blamed the media for not exploring the baseless trope about the widespread use of confidential informants for the FBI who goaded the crowd to attack the Capitol.
He pivoted back to the 2020 election, which he falsely said was “rigged and stolen.”
Trump called for in-person, same-day voting that makes sparing use of absentee voting. It would upend Arizona’s predominantly mail-based system that has been in use for more than two decades.
Trump also hinted at a “historic comeback” that suggests a 2024 White House run, though he didn’t explicitly say he would.
Trump cited his work on the U.S.-Mexico border as something quickly undone by Biden.
As they have throughout Trump’s political career, the boisterous crowd came wearing the uniforms of the Trump era: red hats, clothes in patriotic colors and often-profane messages decrying Biden and the Democrats.
The crowd booed the media, booed Ducey and booed election workers. Crowd members may have been Republicans, but they were firmly committed to one man, Trump, and the idea that Biden stole the election from him.
Others who addressed the crowd before Trump included U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.; state Sens. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff; former state Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale; Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell.
“Screw the media,” Kern said at one point before Trump spoke.
Ward’s remarks began by asking the crowd to respond to the question: “Who won the election?”
“Trump!” the crowd answered.
Kern and Ward were among a group of Arizonans who in December 2020 signed a document that was sent to Congress with a false avowal that they constituted Arizona’s official vote in the Electoral College. All 11 people were listed on the general election ballot as the would-be electors for Trump despite Biden having become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Arizona since 1996.
Borrelli pushed back on the fact that the belief in widespread election fraud that stole the presidency from Trump in 2020 was a “conspiracy theory.” He said there was indeed a conspiracy, but he claims “it’s not a theory.”
The problem was “obstructionists” who oversee elections at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office and in Maricopa County, Borrelli said.
Townsend asked how many in the crowd had volunteered for the 2020 election or the Arizona Senate-led audit — dozens or more raised their hands. She reminded them that Brnovich is investigating findings from the Senate-led audit and led people in a chant:
“What do we want? Indictments! When do we want them? Now!”
She referred to unnamed enemies who are “constantly scheming” to steal elections.
“We want indictments of the election workers so that they don’t continue to do this,” she said before going on to condemn “medical tyranny” she sees in COVID-19 emergency measures.
Trump’s visit underscores his continued importance in GOP circles nearly one year after departing the White House. The Florence rally provided another opportunity for the former president to help shape Arizona races more to his liking.
The Senate race was clearly the most important unanswered political question left unanswered by Trump. He underscored even before his speech that Ducey will not get his support.
On Friday, Trump addressed the speculation that Ducey could enter the race, giving Republicans their most prominent candidate.
“Rumors are that Doug Ducey, the weak RINO Governor from Arizona, is being pushed by Old Crow (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell to run for the U.S. Senate,” Trump said in a written statement that invoked a conservative insult to those who are “Republican in name only.”
“He will never have my endorsement or the support of MAGA Nation!”
Trump’s relationship with Ducey crumbled after the governor certified Biden’s narrow victory in the state in the 2020 election. Last year, Ducey further angered Trump by saying he would not decertify the results after the state Senate’s review of Maricopa County ballots.
In backing Lake, Trump said, “She will do a far better job than RINO Governor Doug Ducey.”
Republic reporters Robert Anglen and Richard Ruelas contributed to this article.