The former president returns for his first campaign-style rally of 2022
Former president Donald Trump held his first rally of 2022 in Arizona, one of the focal points of his “Big Lie” that the election was rigged. Throughout the rally, Mr Trump raged against his enemies as much in the Republican Party as well as President Joe Biden and the media.
Here’s five takeaways from Mr Trump’s event in Arizona.
Trump still runs the GOP
Kari Lake, a former Arizona news anchor and gubernatorial candidate, gave one of the rally’s opening speeches and joined Mr Trump onstage.
Before the former president arrived in Arizona, Kimberly Yee, the Republican state treasurer and also a candidate for governor, announced she would end her campaign and instead would run for state treasurer. Mr Trump also railed against Arizona’s outgoing Republican Governor Doug Ducey, whom he has loathed for not decertifying the 2020 election results.
“He’s never going to get my endorsement,” he said, amid rumors Mr Ducey is considering a run for the Senate against Democratic Senator Mark Kelly.
Mr Trump also danced on the graves of retiring Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the US Capitol riot on January 6, most recently Rep John Katko of New York. He vocally criticized Reps Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both of whom sit on the select committee investigating the riot and the latter of whom is not seeking reelection.
“They’re falling fast and furious. We’re getting rid of them fast,” he said.
The ‘Big Lie’ is now an article of faith
Mr Trump opened the rally by saying “The Big Lie is a lot of bulls***.”
Throughout he spoke of how he won the election and continued to spread repeated lies on the 2020 presidential race to thunderous applause.
“I ran twice and we won twice and we did better the second time. We did much better the second time,” Mr Trump said.
He also dismissed concerns about the January 6 attempted insurrection by his supporters and instead continued to repeat claims of impropriety and that Democrats used measures during the pandemic to enable mail-in voting to steal the election.
“Why aren’t they investigating November 3rd a Rigged and Stolen Election,” he said. “The people are very angry. They got duped and they found out what happened. The people have to be free to find the answers and if not, they will never trust again and our country will be absolutely decimated.”
Trump openly espoused conspiracy theories about January 6 and sympathy for rioters
The former president has long promoted conspiracy theories unrelated to the election. But throughout the rally, Mr Trump openly espoused the conspiracy theory that Ray Epps – previously on the FBI’s most wanted list – was a government informant and goaded people to come into the Capitol.
“Exactly how many of those present at the Capitol complex on January 6 were FBI confidential informants, agents or otherwise, working directly or indirectly with an agency of the United States government,” he said. “People want to hear this.
He also expressed sympathy for some rioters who are currently in jail awaiting trial for their actions at the US Capitol and said they are “living in hell.”
“The bathrooms are horrible,” he said, adding that “If we think they’re innocent, we should help them defend themselves.”
He also repeated his sympathy for Ashli Babbitt, the pro-Trump rioter who was shot and killed by a Capitol police officer after she stormed the building.
Letitia James is target #1, even above Biden
One target of Mr Trump’s ire stood out from all the rest on Saturday, thanks to the former president’s social media and graphics teams.
The nearly two-hour rally was interrupted about halfway through for a pre-produced video that the former president showed his fans. In the video, which was up for less than a minute, statements made by New York Attorney General Letitia James about her desire to go after Mr Trump for longstanding accusations of fraud were highlighted.
The moment stood out, as it marked the only time in the rally that Mr Trump relinquished the microphone other than to allow remarks from Kari Lake, his favoured candidate for Arizona governor.
Ms James was also the only one of Mr Trump’s Democratic rivals, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to get the pre-produced attack video treatment.
The New York Attorney General is currently involved in a case pursuing the Trump Organization for fraud claims.
Impeachment supporters are still on Trump’s mind
Normally, it would make little sense for a president to call out a retiring, low-profile GOP congressman by name and bring him on onstage at a rally located on the opposite side of the country from their home district.
But typical logic rarely applies to Trump rallies. On Saturday, Mr Trump named and shamed Representative John Katko, a Republican from New York, over his announcement that he would retire and not seek reelection this year.
The move would normally be seen as a blow for the Republican Party, which hopes to retain control of Mr Katko’s district (which leans slightly Democratic) and retake the House this fall.
But not so for Mr Trump, de facto leader of the GOP, who sees Mr Katko as the enemy following the latter’s support for the second impeachment of the former president last year in the wake of the January 6 riot.
“They’re falling fast and furious. The ones that voted to impeach, we’re getting rid of them fast,” he told his supporters.
Naming the New York congressman, he added: “And John Katko is now gone, we just got rid of Katko.”
The announcement was met with a smattering of applause. However the majority of the crowd appeared not to associate the name with the effort to impeach Mr Trump, as it did with bigger-name Republicans like Reps Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
The president’s second impeachment trial ended without conviction but nevertheless saw the greatest defection by a president’s party of any impeachment effort in history.