WILKES-BARRE, United States - Mr Donald Trump blasted United States President Joe Biden at a raucous rally on Saturday in Pennsylvania for the latter’s speech earlier in the week calling Maga Republicans a threat to the country.
Maga stands for Make America Great Again - Mr Trump’s slogan.
The former president also flayed the Biden administration for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Aug 8 raid on his Florida residence - in which the agency recovered classified documents taken from the White House - for “weaponising the Justice Department and the FBI like never ever before”.
The raid was “one of the most shocking abuses of power by any administration in American history” and “a travesty of justice”, he said.
The rally in the critical swing state was to stump for Mr Trump’s favoured candidates for the Nov 8 midterm elections - Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.
The latter was among the first to allege that the 2020 election was stolen from Mr Trump - a belief deeply entrenched among the former president’s supporters. He has also said that if he wins in November, he will ban abortion and restart digging and drilling for fossil fuels.
Polls show both Dr Oz – a celebrity heart surgeon – and Mr Mastriano currently trailing their Democrat opponents.
But beyond the midterms, the 2024 presidential election is beginning to loom as well – and Mr Trump has been teasing but not declaring another run for the office. “We are going to take back our country,” he said to chants of “USA! USA!”.
To more wild cheering, he said: “We have no choice, in 2022 and 2024 we have to smash… the grip of this vile and vindictive political class, we have to clean house in Washington, DC.”
Among those attending the Wilkes-Barre rally were a handful of African Americans, a couple of anti-Chinese Communist Party activists and a small but vocal group of Vietnamese Americans. The vast majority were white people.
And for all of them, from across Pennsylvania and beyond, even from states as far as Florida, it was a gathering of the faithful.
Every supporter who spoke to The Straits Times believes the 2020 election was rigged - even though no evidence has held up in court despite multiple legal challenges.
“The judiciary has been bought,” asserted 52-year-old social worker Denise Tenney.
The audience in the packed 10,000-seat stadium booed loudly as Mr Trump told them: “You’re all enemies of the state.”
“This week, Joe Biden came to Philadelphia to give the most vicious, hateful and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president… vilifying 75 million citizens... as threats to democracy and enemies of the state,” he said.
In a Sept 1 speech in Philadelphia, Mr Biden warned that “Donald Trump and the Maga Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic”.
He added that “there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the Maga Republicans, and that is a threat to this country”.
But Mr Trump said the danger to democracy comes from the radical left, not from the right.
And time and again his supporters, many of whom had queued for up to five hours on Saturday to hear him speak, told ST that they were upset at President Biden.
“Maga has turned into a movement because they have demonised us,” Ms Tenney said.
Mr Edward Xavier Young, a 63-year-old Trump supporter from New Jersey, said: “It essentially was a declaration of war; I realise now that Joe Biden has declared that me and everybody who didn’t vote for him is an enemy of the state.”
Several supporters said they want Mr Trump to run again in 2024.
A tech support worker, who asked not to be named for fear of being “targeted”, said: “Nobody can buy Trump, he’s not part of the Washington cycle of special interests, that’s why they hate him.”
But he noted: “If he runs, the problem is half the country hates him, so it may be easier for the Democrats to tip the scales against him.”
The Washington Post in an editorial comment on Saturday, while agreeing with Mr Biden’s broad message, was also uncharacteristically critical of him.
“The difficult, perhaps insurmountable, challenge that Mr Biden confronted - just eight weeks before midterm elections that will determine the future course of his presidency - was how to convey the message of defending democracy in a way that summons patriotism rather than partisanship. Here, as much as we agree with the President about the urgency of the issue, is where he fell short.”
“You don’t persuade people by scolding or demeaning them, but that’s how the President’s speech landed for many conservatives of goodwill,” the Editorial Board wrote.