Trump returns to campaign-style rallies. Can he reach an audience beyond the GOP base?
Former President Donald Trump’s megaphone, once the loudest in politics, will be put to the test in the coming weeks as he prepares to hold his first rallies since leaving office.
While Trump has maintained his firm grip on the Republican Party even after his election defeat, he has struggled to get his message out and dominate headlines as he once did without the power of the bully pulpit or access to his social media accounts.
Trump’s upcoming rallies in Ohio and Florida and visit to the border with Mexico on Tuesday will represent his biggest uptick in public appearances over the last five months. Republicans say the trips will help demonstrate whether the former president can reach a broader audience outside of his most committed supporters as he seeks to influence the 2022 midterm elections and keep the door open to another White House run.
“He remains the dominant voice in the party, for better or worse,” said Scott Jennings, a veteran Republican operative who has worked for former President George W. Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “The general public at large is probably done with him, but the base wants to hear from him, and that’s his audience right now.”
Trump’s first official post-presidential rally is set to take place Saturday in northern Ohio. He will campaign there for Max Miller, his former aide, who is running in the GOP primary against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Trump has another rally scheduled for July 3 in Florida. He has also hinted at plans for rallies in Alabama and Georgia this summer.
Aside from the rallies, the former president is scheduled to travel to south Texas next week with Gov. Greg Abbott and a delegation of House Republicans, a trip designed to put pressure on President Joe Biden over the surge of migrants arriving at the border. Trump is slated to return to Texas in mid-July for a major conservative gathering.
Prior to these events, Trump’s only public appearances since his Oval Office tenure ended came during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida in March and the North Carolina GOP convention earlier this month.
While Republican strategists say they fully expect Trump to play a significant role in motivating his devotees in the coming election cycle, they question how wide his appeal will be. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University, for instance, found that only 37% of all voters nationally view Trump favorably, compared to 84% of Republicans.
“The further away he gets from being president, the less influential he is to the general electorate,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a longtime Georgia Republican operative. “The area where he has the most influence is the base of the party.”
A LIMITED PRESENCE
Perhaps the biggest factor hindering Trump’s influence is his ban from major social media sites. Following his initial removal in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Facebook announced that Trump would be prohibited from their platform for at least two years, while his Twitter account remains permanently suspended.
Trump launched a blog in May in an attempt to more widely share statements his team was sending to the media, but it was shut down after 29 days. His aides have said they plan to launch another social media platform for Trump to use at some point, though no details have emerged.
“He is the leader of the party. The things he does and says do matter to Republican primary voters,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP consultant. “He still has significant sway with them with his megaphone, but the megaphone is not as big as it used to be.”
Trump has managed to communicate with his supporters through appearances on conservative media outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax, where he has repeated his unfounded claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election and teased a 2024 presidential bid. And he’s remained heavily involved in party politics, holding private meetings with GOP congressional leaders, attending fundraisers and making endorsements in primary contests.
Trump’s public reemergence could put Republican officials tasked with winning control of the U.S. House and Senate in next year’s midterms in an awkward spot. He has vowed to campaign against the incumbent Republicans who voted against him during the impeachment proceedings, which some GOP operatives fear will be detrimental towards their chances of defeating the Democrats in the general election.
That effort starts in earnest on Saturday with the Ohio rally, as Trump wades into the primary for the state’s 16th congressional district against Rep. Gonzalez. Several of the state’s top Republicans, including Gov. Mike DeWine, have said they do not plan to attend the event.
A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee did not respond to requests for comment about the rally.
Trump recently endorsed a Republican challenger to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict the former president in this year’s impeachment trial. Trump has also backed candidates in crowded Senate GOP primaries in Alabama and North Carolina.
National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Rick Scott earlier this week sidestepped questions from reporters about Trump’s involvement in primaries.
“A lot of Republicans are going to go out and endorse. I’m just not going to be one of them,” said Scott, a senator from Florida. “I’m supporting incumbents and defining the Democrats every day. That’s what I’m doing.”
Even if he is no longer driving news cycles like he did when he was president, Trump is poised to be in the spotlight more in the coming months. Aside from holding more public events, he has participated in at least 22 interviews for 17 books, according to Axios, some of which will be released later this summer.
“He craves attention,” said Williams. “That’s why he’s going out and doing this now, he feeds off it.”