Former President Trump drew more than 6,000 fans for a rally Saturday evening in this industrial northeast Ohio city — and mocked venture capitalist J.D. Vance, his pick in the state’s surprisingly tight U.S. Senate race, in the process.
“J.D. is kissing my ass. Of course he wants my support,” Trump told the crowd.
“The entire MAGA movement is for J.D. Vance,” he added.
Trump has intervened in dozens of Republican primaries across the country this year.
Many of the candidates he backed, including Vance, went on to win their party’s nomination. But some Republicans in Washington have questioned whether Trump’s picks, who often have strong appeal to his base, can succeed in November, when they will have to compete for swing voters.
“Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” of statewide races, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the GOP leader in the Senate, said last month.
Many election forecasters believe that Democrats are likely to maintain control of the Senate.
Trump won Ohio twice, both times by more than 8 percentage points. But Vance, who was once a Trump critic, has been struggling to build a lead on Rep. Tim Ryan, his Democratic opponent for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
Trump backed Vance in part because he thought the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Marine veteran had the best chance to win, he said earlier this year.
“He’s a guy that said some bad s— about me. He did,” Trump told the crowd at an April rally in Cleveland. “But I have to do what I have to do. We have to pick somebody that can win.”
Some at Saturday’s rally evinced little affection for Republicans not named Trump.
“I love Trump. He is the best president in my lifetime,” said Patricia Delwiche, 65, of Missouri, who traveled nearly 12 hours to attend Saturday’s event.
Delwiche believes Trump needs to do more to push “Republicans in Name Only” — RINOs — out of the party.
“There are RINOs out there. They need to get out, like Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham,” she said, referring to the Bakersfield Republican who leads the House GOP and the longtime senator from South Carolina.
Delwiche was one of nearly 1,000 rallygoers who waited outside the venue from the early morning hours as music blasted from the arena’s outdoor speakers. Some attendees tailgated in the parking lots.
Like most Trump rallies, Saturday’s gathering also featured appearances by a variety of Trump world celebrities. Vincent Fusca — the QAnon figure who many Q followers believe is John F. Kennedy Jr., was in attendance. Uncle Jam, an older man dressed as Uncle Sam who sings Trump-inspired renditions of popular songs, sang “Facebook Prison Blues” to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Mike Lindell, owner of the company My Pillow, spoke on a small stage in the parking lot.
“They had Jan. 6 planned out,” Lindell told the crowd before the event without specifying who “they” were.
The two days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol will be remembered as some of the darkest days in our country’s history, he said.
“They tried to kill your voice that day. They canceled 1.2 million voices from across social media,” Lindell said.
As rallygoers waited to enter the building, Lindell paced across his stage for nearly an hour, spouting debunked election claims. Earlier this year, Dominion Voting Systems sued Lindell for defamation over his evidence-free claims that the company’s former director of product strategy and security committed treason and rigged election machines for President Biden.
After rally attendees filed in, the first person to take the stage was J.R. Majewski, a former nuclear energy worker in a tight race against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-tenured woman in the House.
Kaptur’s home turf, like much of northern Ohio, used to be solidly Democratic, full of union workers who backed candidates with long histories of supporting labor. But that started to change after many manufacturing jobs were outsourced and some unions started to back Trump.
Redistricting recently made Kaptur’s district more competitive, and she’s a top target for Republicans this fall.
Majewski’s dad used to be a “true blue Democrat until 2015, when he saw Donald Trump coming down the escalator and he spoke to his heart,” the candidate told The Times in an interview.
“Donald Trump didn’t create the MAGA movement,” Majewski said. “He just taught us how to listen and gave us some insight of what our elected officials were doing, and it motivated people to get more involved.”
If elected, Majewski said, he would focus on energy policy and stopping the Democrats from “trying to force the Green New Deal, wind turbines, solar panels, down the throat of the American people. We just got to keep the lobbyists and big-business money out of the picture.”
Majewski’s speech took a more radical tone. He thanked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for sending unwitting migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and falsely claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
“This Ohio caucus is excited to work together as a team for Ohio,” he said. “We are going to lead the way — no more empty promises, no more locking us down, no more masks, no more grooming our children.”
If Republicans have their way, the Ohio caucus will be led by Vance.
In his speech, Vance attacked Ryan for voting too often with Biden and for supporting “rioters and looters” and the “defund the police” movement.
Ryan never supported defunding the police; he said the criminal justice system is racist and believes it is “the new Jim Crow.”
Vance also attacked Ryan for wanting to eventually ban gas-powered vehicles, which Ryan suggested during his 2020 presidential run.
“Is that going to benefit the Youngstown autoworker? Of course not,” Vance said.
Trump closed out the night by painting a dark vision of Ohio. He said Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton — all led by Democratic mayors — are some of the deadliest in the country and are being taken over by drug dealers.
“I’m calling for the death penalty for drug dealers and human traffickers,” he said.
The three Ohio cities Trump mentioned had some of the highest homicide rates in the nation in 2019, according to FBI data.
He criticized Ryan for saying he wanted to “kill and confront” the extremist movement within the Republican Party.
Trump also attacked Ryan for trying to appeal to moderate Republicans.
“I think he is running on a ‘I love Donald Trump’ policy,” Trump said of the Democrat. “He is a militant left-winger, pretending to be a moderate.”
Trump continued to push bogus claims about the 2020 election.
“We won [the presidency] in two landslides, and now, we have to give J.D. a landslide,” he said. “The radical left Democrats have been fighting tooth and nail to stop me because they know I will never be loyal to them and will only be loyal to you.”
Ohioans have to vote Republican on the entire ballot or risk the election being stolen, Trump added.
“We need a landslide so big that the radical left can’t steal it or rig it,” Trump said. “This is the year we are going to take back the House, we are going to take back the Senate, and we are going to take back America. And in 2024, most important, we are going to take back our magnificent White House.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.