WELLINGTON, Ohio | Justin Bastion has a theory: Former President Donald Trump knew his rivals were going to try to steal the 2020 election, and he refused to get in the way because he wanted to expose the corruption.
The 40-year-old entrepreneur and Trump supporter said that the former president “outsmarted” and “out chess-matched” his rivals over the course of four years in office and that he believes Mr. Trump did it again by setting a trap and letting his opponents “take the bait.”
“They let it happen. They had to catch them. Now they got them,” Mr. Bastion told a reporter. “How do you drain the swamp? Everybody that is shady in politics is involved.”
“It was a sting. It was a honey pot and they got them,” he said. “It is the most brilliant [expletive] thing I have ever witnessed.”
The belief that the presidential election was stolen was an article of faith among the people like Mr. Bastion who turned out Saturday at the Lorain County fairgrounds west of Cleveland for Mr. Trump’s first campaign-style event for the 2022 midterm elections.
The former president received a hero’s welcome from thousands of attendees. Some had waited more than a day in the fairgrounds to see him. Most waited in line for hours in the heat, sporting Trump apparel, American flags and T-shirts that read “Trump won.”
Mr. Trump said that the stakes are high in the coming elections and that Republicans must flip control of the White House and Congress and “take back America.”
“With your help, we are going to beat the radical Democrats — and we are going to elect an amazing slate of proud ‘America First’ Republicans next year,” Mr. Trump said. “After just five months the Biden administration is already a complete and total catastrophe. Crime is surging, murders are soaring, police departments are being gutted, illegal aliens are overrunning our borders. Joe Biden is destroying our nation right before our very own eyes.”
He said the “No. 1 priority for everyone who wants to save America is to pour every single ounce of energy you have into winning a gigantic victory in the midterms and in 2024.”
Mr. Trump is scheduled to visit the Texas border Wednesday and hold a rally over the July 4 weekend in Sarasota, Florida.
The appearances mark a new post-presidency phase for Mr. Trump. He is seeking revenge against Republicans who backed impeachment and is looking to reassert his role as leader of the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump urged voters to back Max Miller’s primary challenge in Ohio’s 16th Congressional District against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Trump said the contrast between the two Republicans is clear. He described Mr. Miller as a “trusted” and “fantastic” former aide who would be tough on immigration and crime, and would stand up against China and fight for good Ohio jobs. He said Mr. Gonzalez is “a grandstanding RINO” who voted for the “unhinged, unconstitutional impeachment witch hunt.”
The former president also urged voters to back Mike Carey, a Republican running for an open seat in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.
Mr. Trump declared that the country has been moving in the wrong direction since he left office five months ago, saying the Biden administration has pushed “twisted” critical race theory into classrooms across the country and into the military.
“Our generals and our admirals are now focused more on this nonsense than they are on our enemies,” Mr. Trump said. “You see these generals lately on television, they are woke, they are woke.”
The comments were a jab at Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who last week slapped down criticism in a congressional hearing that the military is going too far with critical race theory.
Leader of the GOP
Mr. Trump rehashed his charge that the election had been “rigged” via expanded mail-in balloting and the use of drop boxes for ballots, and reiterated his allegation there were “more votes than voters” in Democratic bastions such as Philadelphia and Atlanta.
“We won the election twice,” he said. “And it’s possible we’ll have to win it a third time.”
His supporters have been eagerly awaiting the results of a ballot audit being conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona. They hope it could serve as a blueprint for the rest of the nation and are convinced it will show the election was tainted.
There are some concerns in the Republican ranks that Mr. Trump’s rigged election claims muddy the party’s message ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Mr. Trump remains the leader of the party because of the support he has with the GOP base, but added that he hopes the party keeps its focus on the issues.
“Let’s focus on the policies that worked and also on what is not working now,” Mr. Portman said.
But on Saturday night, Mr. Trump threw that caution to the wind, celebrating the “incredible American patriots” who are still fighting for election audits in several battleground states.
“There’s mountains of evidence [of fraud],” the former president said. “Ballots were wheeled in through back doors in swing states days after the election.”
The Atlantic reported over the weekend that Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, had urged Mr. Barr to speak up after the election, telling the attorney general that the allegations were damaging the party and the country.
To date, no court challenges or reviews have changed the election results in any state. The Arizona audit also won’t change the election outcome.
Whatever the case, Mr. Trump’s stolen election claims are deeply ingrained in the minds of his supporters. They say they are baffled that others have been so willing to accept the election results and don’t see what they see.
“I think it was stolen,” said Ed Novac. “It is just too coincidental that six of the states that go to Biden [were] at basically the exact same time.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but someone is going to have to do something,” he said. “I think we would be in a constitutional crisis if that happens.”
Joann Passeno of Norwalk said there is no way Mr. Biden won.
“How is it that a guy who was living in a basement was able to get more votes than Mr. Trump?” the 51-year-old said.
Mr. Bastion agreed.
“The guy who can’t stop traffic with a rally gets 81 [million] or 83 million votes?” Mr. Bastion said. “You have to be high to believe that. It is just common sense.”
Bryan Lindsay, 41, said he believes the controversial “forensic” audit playing out in Maricopa County, Arizona, will turn up enough evidence of wrongdoing that other probes will pick up speed in other states.
“It is my belief that the states can decertify the electoral votes and possibly turn the election back over to Trump,” he said. “I think it is going to happen pretty soon. I believe he will be running in ‘24 no matter what, and he will win.”
“Thank you to the people in Wellington, OH last night for an unbelievable evening of very serious talk but also, fun,” he said in a statement. “In many ways with what was said, and the reaction to it, it was legendary.”
Mr. Trump also used the rally to re-establish his presence on social media, streaming the event on his new account on Rumble, a video platform rivaling YouTube that had 31.9 million members in the first quarter of this year.
The former president has been banned from Twitter and Facebook since January over his role in the riot at the Capitol.
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