Speaking to a crowd of thousands on an airport tarmac near Pittsburgh on Saturday night, former President Trump predicted victory for his Republican Party in Tuesday’s midterm elections and foreshadowed his all-but-certain campaign to regain the presidency.
In a nearly two-hour speech that featured his usual false claims about the 2020 election being stolen from him, Trump described an America beset by a “wide-open” southern border, city streets “ruled by bloodthirsty gangs and violent criminals,” and “twisted race and gender insanity in our schools.”
“There’s nothing good to say about what’s happening in our country,” he said, in an apt summary of his message.
“But on Tuesday night, I think there are going to be incredible things to say.”
Trump’s prediction of GOP triumph next week may well bear fruit. Republicans are heavily favored to regain control of the House of Representatives, and the outcome of the Senate fight hinges on a few tight races like the one in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is facing off against Trump’s pick, the celebrity television doctor Mehmet Oz.
The rally Saturday was ostensibly in support of Oz and Trump’s gubernatorial pick, state Sen. Doug Mastriano. But the former president was the main event.
Trump made his fans, who began gathering at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport at 8 a.m., wait.
More than an hour after Mastriano and Oz finished their speeches, Trump’s red, white, and blue Boeing 757 touched down on the runway to raucous cheers and the sound of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” over the loudspeakers.
As his faithful looked on, the plane sat motionless for nearly 10 minutes before Trump, in a red tie and “Make America Great Again” hat, stepped out and made his way to a small stage on the tarmac.
“Look at all of them,” Trump said, referring to the press. “They must think I’m going to announce for president tonight.”
He did not announce a campaign for the White House, saying that he wanted the focus to instead be on Mastriano and Oz. “First we have to win a historic victory for Republicans on Nov. 8,” he said.
But Trump couldn’t help but tease a potential launch. “I’m not going to say it right now,” he told the crowd. “But you’re going to be very happy. … In the very next, very, very, very short amount of time, you’re going to be very happy.”
Then he went back to laying into the Democrats. Fetterman “will mean death and despair for every community in your commonwealth,” he warned. “And Dr. Oz is the only one who can stop him.”
Saturday’s rally was only the latest in a five-day, multistate campaign blitz Trump has mounted in an attempt to boost support for his chosen candidates ahead of the midterms.
Trump’s interventions in Republican primaries this year have often been decisive, earning his allies GOP nominations for Senate, governor and many other offices. Trump-backed candidates advanced to the general election in 207 of the 220 races in which he made endorsements this cycle, according to a Times analysis.
But earlier this year, Trump’s picks of controversial gubernatorial candidates such as Mastriano and Senate candidates such as Oz, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio had some Republicans worried that his judgment might be undermining the party’s chances in the midterms.
“Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” of Senate races, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said this summer, in comments that were widely interpreted as a criticism of Trump’s choices.
Since the summer, however, polls have moved in the GOP’s direction, and many of the Trump-backed candidates who once looked like long shots are now tied or even ahead.
Trump has not forgiven McConnell, instead calling for the Kentucky senator’s impeachment.
But bad blood between the two Republican leaders hasn’t stopped the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-tied super political action committee, from spending tens of millions of dollars to back Trump’s picks across the country, including $41 million in Pennsylvania alone.
But since Fetterman suffered a stroke in May and turned in a lackluster debate performance last month, Oz has narrowed the race.
Oz, who has tried to paint Fetterman as too liberal for Pennsylvania, has worked to win over moderate voters.
But by appearing onstage with Trump, who lost the state in 2020, and Mastriano, who was present at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that turned into a riot and is way behind in the polls, Oz risks undermining that effort.
Fetterman, rallying with President Biden and former President Obama across the state in Philadelphia, seemed to see Oz’s choice of company as an opening.
“Dr. Oz is going to be on a stage with Donald Trump tonight, and Doug Mastriano. A true exercise in moderation,” Fetterman said. “But tonight I get to spend this stage with two presidents, our next governor — and we are all 100% sedition-free!”
In Latrobe, though, Trump’s allies didn’t give any indication that they were nervous to be associated with him. Both Mastriano and Oz came up to the stage when he summoned them.
Trump encouraged his supporters to vote for both men, and seemed to lay the groundwork for blaming any potential defeats on fraud. Republicans, he warned, should vote in person, to make it “harder for [Democrats] to cheat.” The vote counters, he said, were “crooked as hell.”
As Trump wrapped up his speech, the loudspeakers played a song associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement as he recited his usual closing lines, promising to make America powerful, wealthy and strong again.
“The silent majority is back, and stronger than ever before,” he said. “My fellow citizens, this incredible journey we are all on together has only just begun.”