Donald Trump returns to an Ohio stage Saturday for his first big campaign-style rally since leaving the White House, launching a series of appearances before cheering supporters ahead of next year's midterm elections.
The former president, who has been booted from social media platforms and faces multiple legal woes, has flirted with his own potential candidacy in 2024, but has made no announcement about his political future.
He has delivered two major speeches since leaving Washington in January, including a rambling, vindictive monologue in North Carolina early this month when he relitigated his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
Trump also addressed the annual conservative confab CPAC in February, a far cry from the supercharged atmosphere of his famous outdoor events.
By attending what is expected to be a raucous rally at a county fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio in support of conservative candidate Max Miller, a former Trump aide, the brash billionaire makes clear he wants to remain a powerful force in the Republican Party's effort to retake the Senate and House of Representatives next year.
In particular he has signalled a willingness to help candidates who embrace his Make America Great Again movement.
Trump, 75, has maintained a relatively low profile since leaving the presidency under a cloud three weeks after the deadly January 6 uprising at the US Capitol.
The House impeached Trump for inciting the insurrection — with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in voting to oust the president — but he was acquitted by the Senate.
Now Trump is calling for the scalps of those Republicans who voted to impeach him, beginning with Anthony Gonzalez, the Ohio incumbent whom Miller is challenging in a Republican primary.
Trump's Save America PAC, or political action committee, says the Ohio rally marks the first of many appearances by the ex-president “in support of candidates and causes that further the MAGA agenda and accomplishments of President Trump's administration.”
– ‘Big crowds' –
Trump said he is anticipating “big crowds” in Wellington for the 7:00pm (2300 GMT) event, and some diehard supporters have already been camping our for days for front-row seats.
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, AGAIN!” he blared in all caps in a statement.
Bellwether Ohio has been one of the nation's major swing states over the past century.
But after voting twice for Barack Obama, the Rust Belt state has tilted rightward, voting for Trump in 2016 and 2020.
Trump still holds sway with significant swaths of Republicans.
His relentless and baseless claims that massive fraud cost him last November's presidential election have been embraced by many in the party, and some unabashedly pro-Trump GOP politicians, notably Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have risen in national stature.
This week Trump's PAC announced he would hold a major rally — complete with fireworks — in Sarasota, Florida on July 3, one day before the Independence Day holiday.
In Ohio and Florida Trump is likely to reprise his claims of electoral fraud, as he did in North Carolina when he said without evidence that his defeat by Biden was “the crime of the century.”
Trump will also enter the public sphere next Wednesday with a high-profile visit to the US border with Mexico, where he will hammer the Biden administration on its immigration policy.
Congressman Tim Ryan, a former presidential candidate from Ohio, shrugged off Trump's reappearance as a minimal electoral threat.
“He still has core support,” Ryan told AFP recently. “I just think that that fan base is more and more disconnected from what average people are going through — and I think that's pretty apparent.”
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