Mar 17, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump's dark rally speech offers preview of 2024's outrage cycle

Trump saluting

Trump salutes the J6 Prison Choir. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump's rally in Dayton, Ohio, opened Saturday with an announcer's voice directing the packed MAGA crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the horribly and unfairly treated Jan. 6 hostages."

Why it matters: Trump's honoring of supporters prosecuted for storming the Capitol has become a tradition at his rallies — and a fitting prelude to the type of provocative speeches likely to define his campaign for the next seven months.

  • After standing and saluting the J6 Prison Choir's alternate rendition of the national anthem, Trump praised Jan. 6 defendants as "unbelievable patriots" and vowed to help the "hostages" on his first day in office.
  • What followed was a free-wheeling, headline-seizing speech in which Trump painted an apocalyptic vision of an America overrun by immigrant "animals" if President Biden is re-elected.

What they're saying: "I don't think you're going to have another election, or certainly not an election that's meaningful," Trump predicted if he doesn't win in November.

The big picture: The Biden campaign sees these rallies — with Saturday's intended to boost Ohio businessman Bernie Moreno ahead of Tuesday's Senate GOP primary — as a gold mine for ad material.

  • With many voters only now tuning back in for the general election, Biden is seeking to draw a sharp contrast with Trump on policy, rhetoric and optimism about America's future.
  • Key to that effort is a rapid-response team responsible for clipping and blasting out videos of Trump tossing red meat to his MAGA base with insults, obscenities and dehumanizing rhetoric about immigrants.
JD Vance tweet
Screenshot via X

Between the lines: The cycle of viral sound bites can sometimes play directly into Trump's hands.

  • After the Biden campaign issued a statement condemning Trump's warning of a "bloodbath" if he loses, Republicans accused critics and the media of taking his comments out of context.
  • The Trump campaign says the former president was referring not to political violence, but to how Biden's policies could impact the auto industry and the U.S. economy.
  • "He always walks up to the edge on that rhetoric," Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But sometimes the mainstream media, whether they want to or not, can't resist and they go just a little bit too far."

What to watch: Now that most of Trump's Republican skeptics have grudgingly accepted he'll be the nominee, they'll face new pressure to defend some of the former president's more extreme rhetoric.

  • But plenty of former Trump allies have refused to do that — including former Vice President Mike Pence, who shocked the political world when he said Friday he "cannot in good conscience" endorse Trump.
  • "It's just unacceptable," Pence told CBS News' "Face the Nation" when asked Sunday about Trump's description of Jan. 6 prisoners as "hostages."
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