Donald Trump has held his first political rally since losing the presidential election, delivering an incoherent speech laced with baseless conspiracies theories about election fraud and attacks on Republican state officials in Georgia who have refused to help him subvert the results.
In front of a crowd of thousands of mostly maskless, non-socially distanced supporters in south Georgia, Trump repeatedly claimed, falsely, that he had won the presidential election, and called for those in government with “courage and wisdom” to help him reverse the result.
The president’s rally, on a cold evening at a regional airport in the small city of Valdosta, came ahead of a critical US Senate runoff election in January, which will decide control of the upper house and ultimately play a decisive role in president-elect Joe Biden’s ability to legislate.
Trump had ostensibly travelled to Georgia as a show of support for the two Republican Senate candidates for the January poll, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, but spent the majority of speech railing against the results of the presidential election.
He began his speech, which lasted more than 90 minutes, by falsely claiming he had won the state of Georgia, which he lost to Joe Biden by over 12,000 votes in a result that was certified by the Republican secretary of state more than two weeks ago.
“They cheated and they rigged our presidential election, but we will still win it,” Trump falsely claimed. “And they’re going to try and rig this [Senate] election too.”
The president read from a prepared list of nonsensical evidence that he said highlighted his victory. This included arguing that by winning the states of Ohio and Florida he had in fact won the entire election, and also that winning an uncontested Republican party primary earlier this year was proof he had won against Biden in November.
Trump lost the electoral college vote by 306 votes to 232 and the popular vote by over 7m. His campaign has launched numerous legal challenges in various states. An Associated Press tally showed that of roughly 50 cases brought by Trump’s campaign and his allies, more than 30 have been rejected or dropped, and about a dozen are awaiting action.
Trump vented fury at the Republican governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, a one-time political ally of the president, who has resisted calls to join Trump’s attempts to overturn the result in the state.
“Your governor could stop it very easily if he knew what the hell he was doing,” Trump told the crowd.
He added: “For whatever reason your secretary of state and your governor are afraid of Stacey Abrams” – a reference to the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who is a staunch voting rights advocate and helped drive turnout in the election and secure the state for Biden.
The rally came hours after the Washington Post reported that Trump pressured Kemp to overthrow the results of the election in the state during a Saturday morning phone call. Trump pushed Kemp to convene a special session of the state legislature in a bid to send Trump backing presidential electors when the electoral college convenes on 14 December. Kemp denied the request, the Post reported.
Trump then made a similar demand on Twitter in the afternoon.
The president also demanded an audit of absentee ballot signatures in the state, which Kemp does not have the power to authorise.
The rally bore the hallmarks of many Trump campaign events of the 2020 election season, including a ritual booing of the assembled press, a soundtrack that included Queen’s hit song We Are the Champions, and chants of “four more years”. But despite continually claiming he had won, Trump appeared a little more cognizant of the fact he is set to leave office on 20 January.
At one point Trump described “what we would have done in the next four years” with reference to foreign policy related to Iran and China.
And later claimed if he thought he had lost the presidential election, he would be “a very gracious loser”.
“I’d go to Florida … I’d take it easy” he said.
Trump also made a number of bizarre and incoherent ad libs throughout his address, at one point professing: “I like cucumbers”.
At another point he boastied about non-existent “hydrosonic” missiles.
“Hypersonic missiles. We have hypersonic and hydrosonic. You know what hydrosonic is? Water,” he said.
The president did eventually pivot to the Georgia Senate race and invited Perdue and Loeffler onto stage for a few short remarks.
Neither of the candidates reiterated Trump’s baseless claims about election fraud, with Perdue coming closest by addressing Trump directly and stating: “We’re going to fight and win those seats and make sure you get a fair and square deal in Georgia.”
As Perdue spoke the crowd chanted: “Fight for Trump!”
The moment underlined the difficulties that Trump’s continual denial of the result poses for the Republican party. Some allies of the president, including attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, have urged Republican voters in Georgia not to turn out for the Senate race in protest against the presidential result.
And while neither Loeffler nor Perdue have recognized Joe Biden as the president elect, they are arguing that the Senate race in Georgia is crucial for Republicans to retain control of some form of power, in itself a tacit acknowledgement that Biden has won.
“We have a job to do here, Georgia,” Loeffler told the crowd to a lukewarm reception. “America is counting on us … if you don’t vote we will lose this country.”
If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win in both Senate races they will effectively retake the chamber, in a split 50-50 spli, where vice-president elect Kamala Harris will hold the power to cast a deciding vote. A Republican victory in either race would ensure the party retained control of the senate, marking a major blow to the incoming Biden administration’s legislative agenda.