As former President Donald Trump steadily ramps up public events, he held his first rally since leaving office on Saturday night in Ohio.
"We're gonna take back the House, we're gonna take back the Senate," Trump said, speaking before a crowd of thousands at a fairground in Wellington, a town southwest of Cleveland, in a county and state he won in 2020. "My fellow Americans, our movement is far from over. In fact, our fight has only just begun."
Trump railed against "left-wing indoctrination" in schools, "fake news media" and Big Tech "tyrants," while championing Georgia's controversial voter ID law. He pushed baseless claims to argue what he said were America's biggest threats — election fraud and illegal immigration — and resurfaced a favorite but false assertion that the 2020 election was "stolen" from him.
Trump has left the door wide open to running again.
"We won the election twice," Trump told supporters. "We may have to win it a third time."
The 90-minute speech was punctuated by chants from an energetic crowd: "Trump won" and "four more years."
The event was held in support of a former Trump advisor, Max Miller, who is now running for Congress trying to unseat Republican incumbent Anthony Gonzales. The former president disparaged Gonzales, who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
He also lashed out at Rep. Liz Cheney, Sen. Mitt Romney and other GOP leaders he views as having crossed him — a group he said were "worse than the Democrats."
Trump is expected to continue to hold many score-settling rallies and make lots of grievance-based endorsements ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, as Republicans seek to wrest control of one or both chambers of Congress from Democrats.
Trump's popularity with the GOP base has put somewhat of a freeze on the 2024 field, but some are running versions of shadow campaigns. Just this week, other top potential GOP presidential candidates were making public appearances and made the news, as they jockey for position — if Trump doesn't run.
Here's a look at some:
Ron DeSantis, Florida governor
He's on the tips of many tongues in GOP circles, and he has become a lightning rod on the left for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and more. Just this week — in addition to dealing with a building collapse — he signed controversial bills targeting so-called "indoctrination" in colleges and universities and expanding K-12 "civics education," which is to include "portraits in patriotism" with "first-person accounts of victims of other nations' governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States."
That comes after the state banned teaching "critical race theory" in its public schools, something that's become a cultural catchall on the right for teaching about the depths of Black history and the Black experience.
All of that has only served to vault DeSantis to prominence with Republicans. In a straw poll of attendees at the Western Conservative Summit in Colorado last weekend, DeSantis edged Trump with a slightly higher approval rating, 74% to 71%.
Key quote: "It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you'd be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately now, the norm is really these are more intellectually repressive environments," DeSantis said during a bill signing at a middle school. "You have orthodoxies that are promoted and other viewpoints are shunned, or even suppressed. We don't want that in Florida."
Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
She landed on Trump's bad side when she criticized his actions leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
She's trying to walk a delicate line and hoping to get back in Trump's — and rank-and-file Republicans' — good graces. She recently hosted Jared and Ivanka Trump at her Kiawah Island, S.C., home, and on Thursday, in the early presidential nominating state of Iowa, Haley was testing the waters — and praising Trump.
Key quote: "Joe Biden has been a gift to every country that hates America and wants to hurt us. He's the polar opposite of Donald Trump. I saw firsthand as ambassador to the United Nations how Donald Trump put America first — sometimes in the most interesting of ways," Haley said, delivering the keynote address at the Iowa Republican Party Lincoln Dinner, one of the party's big fundraisers for the year.
She also had this line that sounded like one she's testing out to use more often in a campaign: "Republicans are too nice. I wear heels. It's not for a fashion statement. I use them for kicking, but I always kick with a smile."
Mike Pence, former vice president
Pence was targeted in the Jan. 6 insurrection because of his ceremonial role in certifying the 2020 election results. He has split with Trump on his handling of that day. Earlier this month — in the early presidential state of New Hampshire — Pence praised his former boss but also said he doesn't think he and Trump will ever see "eye to eye" about Jan. 6.
This week, speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Pence went further, responding to those, he said, who believe he could have overturned the results — while also trying to walk a fine line and appeal to Trump supporters.
Key quote: "[T]here's almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president." And then: "President Donald Trump is also one of a kind. He, too, disrupted the status quo. He challenged the establishment. He invigorated our movement. And he set a bold new course for America in the 21st century," Pence said at the Reagan Library. "And now, as then, there is no going back."
Mike Pompeo, former secretary of state
Pompeo has been making the rounds, speaking out against the Biden administration's foreign policy, helping fundraise and stump for candidates — including GOP Rep. Michael Burgess in Texas on Thursday — and trying to get in good with GOP donors.
"He's basically already running for the presidency," one person familiar with Pompeo's meetings with donors in New York told CNBC.
Key quote: "One of the things that I'm most proud of that we did is that we addressed the world that we saw, not the one we wished existed," Pompeo said Wednesday in Texas at the National Religious Broadcasters convention. "We were very realistic about the things we could have an impact on." On working with Trump: "It was easy for me; I knew my place. I knew I worked for him. My mission was unambiguously clear: Go out and make the world safer for the United States of America."
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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