Donald Trump used his first live rally since losing last month’s election to drum home his claim that the result was fraudulent, predicting the matter would “be going up to the Supreme Court very shortly”.
Mr Trump’s Saturday evening appearance in Valdosta, Georgia was intended to boost Republican chances of securing two crucial Senate seats at runoff elections due on January 5. However, it more closely resembled one of his own campaign rallies, in which he appealed to his core supporters to back up his unsubstantiated claims of ballot-stuffing.
“If I lost, I would be a very gracious loser,” said Mr Trump, claiming he won swing states that went to president-elect Joe Biden. “But you can’t even accept when they steal and rig and rob.”
Mr Trump has refused to concede in the election, pursuing dozens of lawsuits aimed at overturning the result that have been repeatedly dismissed in the courts. His campaign, along with the Republican National Committee, has amassed at least $207m in campaign donations throughout the transition to contest the result. But it has also raised the spectre that he could use the war chest to campaign for the presidency again in 2024.
Mr Trump had previously cast doubt on his own legal strategy, saying last week it would be “very hard” to get a case to the Supreme Court. He also authorised that formal transition procedures begin for the Biden administration late last month after initially holding up the process.
Georgia senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are seeking re-election at runoff elections on January 5, after neither Republican incumbent passed the required 50 per cent threshold for victory. Early voting begins on December 14.
Should their Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win, it would hand the incoming Biden administration control of the Senate. They would, however, have a wafer-thin margin with 50 seats apiece that would rely on incoming vice-president Kamala Harris’s vote as tiebreaker. Opinion polling suggests the races will be tight, although surveys have lost some credibility after failing to predict a groundswell in popular support for Mr Trump in the November polls. The former reality TV show host gained an additional 11 million votes in the 2020 elections compared to his victorious performance in 2016, but still ultimately polled seven million fewer than president-elect Joe Biden.
Speaking for more than an hour before he introduced the Republican senators, Mr Trump hewed to traditional campaign themes, lobbing criticism at tech companies and the “fake news” media, and warning that a Democratic administration would open the floodgates to criminal gangs and a new wave of immigrants. Mr Trump alleged that Republicans “won’t ever win another election” if border restrictions were unwound.
He also claimed the Democrats “would pack the Supreme Court with 24 justices”, up from nine now. Mr Biden has said he is “not a fan” of expanding the Supreme Court, but would convene a national commission to study the court system.
Republicans have been encouraging voters to turn out in the Georgia runoff despite Mr Trump’s repeated accusations of fraud and election rigging.
“Very simply, you will decide whether your children will grow up in a socialist country or whether they will live in a free country,” Mr Trump told cheering fans, encouraging them to turn out in high numbers in order to win the Senate.
Neither Mr Trump nor much of the large crowd wore a mask despite a hike in Covid-19 cases that has seen positive cases, hospitalisations and death rates soar in past days. The number of cases in Georgia jumped by a record number on Friday, up 4,947 to a total of more than 438,000 cases, with 2,749 in hospital. An additional 3,717 cases were recorded on Saturday.
Nationwide, more than 224,000 Americans tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, a single-day record, and more than 101,000 were in hospital — another grisly record, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The daily death toll surpassed 2,500 on Friday for the third day in a row, dipping just below that on Saturday.
Mr Trump has attacked Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp, who did not attend the rally, citing the sudden death of a family friend, for certifying the Georgia result.
“They fight harder against us than do the Radical Left Dems,” he tweeted shortly before his Saturday night rally, arguing that the Republicans would have won both Arizona and Georgia if both Republican governors had been more supportive.
Mr Kemp and Mr Trump spoke earlier on Saturday and their tensions over the validity of the vote count have played out on Twitter. Mr Kemp denied Mr Trump’s accusation that he was refusing a “simple signature verification”, saying that he had called for such an audit three times.