“America First” was the common theme among speakers at the Save America Rally on April 23 in central Ohio, where former president Donald Trump reiterated his support for J.D. Vance in the state’s GOP U.S. Senate race.
“J.D. is really an America First warrior,” Trump told a sprawling and exuberant crowd. “He believes so much in making our country great again, and he’s going to do a job on these horrible people that are running against him.
“This guy is tough as hell. He’s going to win,” Trump added. “We have to pick him. He’s right. He’s the guy. He’s the guy.”
“I am the America First candidate in this race,” Vance told the audience.
The event, which was held at the Delaware County Fairgrounds 30 miles north of Columbus, was Trump’s first visit to Ohio since June 2021.
Thousands poured into the rally area when gates opened at 2 p.m. Three jumbotron screens showed ads of Trump-endorsed candidates, promoted Trump’s coffee table book, and highlighted an upcoming documentary about 2020 election fraud. Leading to the speaking portion of the event, a soundtrack of 1970s and 1980s classic rock entertained audience members and long lines gathered in front of food trucks amid the heat on an 85-degree afternoon.
Hayden Ferguson is a 19-year-old University of Dayton student who heads a group called Unapologetically Constitutionally Conservative. He travels to political events around Ohio to gain a pulse of local, state and federal races.
“It came as no shock to me that, even with an endorsement that has confused some conservatives across the state, that [former] president Trump still draws a massive crowd in 85-degree weather two years after he held office,” Ferguson said at the rally.
“Before his endorsement of J.D. Vance, I was strongly advocating for Trump to stay out of the race since it is so close to the primary,” Ferguson added. “After talking to as many people as possible in the audience, it appears that Vance won support by how he presented himself on stage, much like he has done in debates.”
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell opened the speaking portion, referencing how there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and saying there were more than 500,000 fraudulent votes in Ohio.
Congressman Troy Balderson, who Trump endorsed in 2018, and congressman Mike Carey, who Trump backed in 2021, followed Lindell and shared a similar message promoting the election of “America First” candidates throughout Ohio in the primary and in November.
Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, an attorney and a former Miss Ohio who is supported by Trump in the 13th Congressional District race; and Max Miller, a former Trump aide who is backed by his one-time boss and running in the 7th Congressional District, also spoke.
When he was introduced, Vance walked to the stage and received a warm welcome from attendees.
“I’m sick, in sum, of the left destroying this country, and I’m sick of the [Republican in Name Only] RINO’s in Washington DC who refuse to fight back against it,” Vance told the crowd.
Vance recognized his family members in attendance and promised that he “will never forget where he came from.”
He stated his belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and added that “the thing that Trump revealed, more than any policy achievement, is that we are living in an incredibly corrupt country.”
Regarding his 2016 comments about Trump, Vance admitted that it took him longer than some people to embrace his presidency.
“The president is right. I wasn’t always nice, but the simple fact is, he’s the best president of my lifetime,” Vance said.
Since announcing his endorsement of Vance on April 15, the former president has encountered backlash from GOP groups and supporters of fellow GOP U.S. Senate candidates Josh Mandel, Mike Gibbons, and Jane Timken.
Vance apologized for denouncing Trump in now-deleted tweets. In 2016, He had written that he would not vote for Trump and would instead support Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent.
That same year, Vance described himself as “never Trump.” He added that the future president was “reprehensible” and that he makes people “I care about” afraid.
Around three dozen GOP county chairs authored a letter urging Trump to rescind his April 15 endorsement.
Ohio Value Voters, a conservative organization that has endorsed Josh Mandel for the GOP U.S. Senate primary, publicly denounced Trump’s backing of Vance before the Save America rally.
“Ohio Value Voters urges Ohioans to boycott the Trump Rally in Delaware County this Saturday, April 23. However, if you decide to attend, when [former] president Trump introduces J.D. Vance, make your voices heard by letting Trump know, J.D. Vance is Wrong for Ohio,” a statement from Ohio Value Voters said. “Booing is entirely appropriate!”
Based on the large crowd and the loud applause for Vance, Ohioans did not heed the organization’s request.
Best Option To Defeat Ryan
During his address at the event, Trump reiterated his stance that Vance is the best option to defeat congressman Tim Ryan, who is heavily favored to win the Democratic primary.
“He’s a guy that said some bad [expletive] about me. He did,” Trump said about Vance. “But you know what? Every one of the others did also. In fact, if I went by that standard, I probably never would have endorsed anyone in the country.
“But I have to do what I have to do,” Trump added. “We have to pick somebody that can win.
“I like a lot of the other people in the race, but we have to pick the one that’s going to win,”
While talking about a variety of topics during his speech, Trump frequently turned to Vance and called him by name.
When Trump invited Vance on stage, the crowd erupted with chants of “J.D.”
“We need to elect Republicans who know what time it is,” Vance said when he returned to the stage.
“When we get to the Senate, we’re going to do something,” Vance said. “No more talking. No more slogans. No more politicians who wag their fingers at the corrupt Big Tech officials and the FBI. It’s time for consequences, and it’s time for action.”
‘What A Handsome President’
Trump injected humor throughout the address, referring to his hair multiple times. At one point, Trump abruptly stopped what he was saying when he saw himself on the jumbotron screen.
“What a handsome president,” he said, drawing applause and laughter from the audience.
Earlier in the day, Trump announced his endorsement for incumbent Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who has repeatedly said there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
“Here are the facts: Ohio smashed voter turnout records in 2020 while providing Ohioans a secure election,” LaRose told reporters in February 2022. “Our state is proof positive you don’t have to choose between secure or convenient elections—we have both.”
During his address, Trump said that he won Ohio by a higher margin than eight points and added that “mail-in ballots, long term voting, and no voter ID or signature verification is absolutely killing our country our reputation, and our elections. People have to believe in their elections, they have to believe that they were honest.
Later in his address, Trump said “One. Day. Voting. Paper. Ballots. And if we’re going to have mail-in ballots we’re never going to have honest elections.”
For some Ohioans who believe there was election fraud, Trump’s backing of LaRose is more difficult to absorb than his support for Vance. LaRose recently endorsed Vance.
“When you have the top elections official in state endorsing a candidate, that is a conflict of interest and is unethical. The secretary of state is supposed to be bi-partisan,” said Vanessa Treft, a conservative voter in northwest Ohio who attended the rally.
“There are conservatives across Ohio who are more upset about Trump endorsing Frank LaRose than they are about his backing of J.D. Vance.”
Trump did not address the Ohio gubernatorial race, which includes incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine, Canal Winchester farmer and restaurant owner Joe Blystone, former Ohio state representative Ron Hood, and former U.S. House representative Jim Renacci.
Outside The Rally
Outside the fairgrounds entrance, Blystone rented a parking lot where supporters congregated and socialized. At one point, a plane circled above the rally stage area towing a banner that read, “Joe Blystone for Ohio Governor.”
“There is an energy behind our campaign, and I believe it is similar to what happened leading to Trump’s election in 2016,” Blystone said. “There is a super majority of silent voters who will show up on May 3 and bring it home for us.”
Blystone said he finds Trump’s endorsement of LaRose confusing, saying that it makes “no sense at all” because “LaRose is against everything that Trump talked about regarding what happened in the election.”
He added that he is glad Trump did not endorse a candidate in the gubernatorial primary.
Not long after the November 2020 presidential election, Trump tweeted, “Who will be running for Governor of the great state of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!” It was an apparent encouragement for candidates to run against DeWine in the GOP primary.
Trump backed Renacci in 2018 when the Cleveland businessman and former congressman won the primary before falling to Democrat Sherrod Brown in the general election. He has not endorsed Renacci in the gubernatorial race.
“He doesn’t care for DeWine, and he was quoted as saying that Renacci is not a winner,” Blystone said about Trump. “I think he is sitting back and sees numbers we are receiving and he is watching.”
Supporters of Renacci and other candidates not endorsed by Trump were asked to turn their T-shirts inside out at the rally. Renacci told reporters that he would welcome the former president’s endorsement, but he thinks he can defeat DeWine regardless.
“We have a sitting governor who can’t break 40 percent so the goal will be in the next 10 days to get those 12 percent [who are undecided] to come my way,” Renacci said. “If the president endorses, it’s over for Gov. DeWine and I think he knows that.”
DeWine did not attend the rally. He was diagnosed as COVID-19 positive by his personal physician on April 15 and is reportedly in quarantine at his Cedarville farmhouse.
Vance was the only GOP U.S. Senate candidate to attend the rally. Among the top five in the polls, former Ohio state treasurer and state representative Josh Mandel, former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken, and Ohio State Sen. Matt Dolan were absent. Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons, who lost to Renacci in the 2018 Ohio GOP Senate primary, stationed his campaign bus near the fairgrounds entrance. Supporters waved signs at passing motorists.
Mandel was the frontrunner in the polls for several months. Gibbons briefly held an advantage, but momentum shifted when Mandel went nose-to-nose with Gibbons in a heated on-stage exchange at a March 18 debate. That is when Vance’s campaign generated steam, and he rapidly ascended in the polls.
Gibbons remains optimistic about his chances, even after Trump’s endorsement of Vance.
“We haven’t changed our plans,” Gibbons said. “It just added a different dimension to the race. We still think we have a trajectory.”
Regarding the altercation with Mandel, Gibbons said, “If you’re standing in front of 600 people, somebody gets in with the microphone, answering a question, and somebody gets up in your face, what do you do? Even though I wasn’t at fault, I am still embarrassed by the fact that I was even involved.”
When he announced his endorsement of Vance, Trump mentioned that he was “disgusted” by the conduct of Gibbons and Mandel during the March 18 debate, and that contributed to his decision to support Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist who grew up in Middletown, Ohio.