A Gleeful Trump, Fresh From the Debate, Rallies in Virginia


The day after a presidential debate in which his opponent’s stumbles took the focus, former President Donald J. Trump returned to the campaign trail on Friday afternoon, clearly gleeful as he strode onstage in front of thousands of people in a field in Virginia and gloated about his performance.

Fresh off a debate in which his attacks, falsehoods and exaggerations largely went unchecked in the face of a halting performance by President Biden, Mr. Trump used the rally to bolster now familiar arguments that Mr. Biden was not fit to remain in office.

“The question every voter should be asking themselves today is not whether Joe Biden can survive a 90-minute debate performance,” Mr. Trump said, “but whether America can survive four more years of crooked Joe Biden in the White House.”

Seizing on reports that Democrats panicking about the debate were eager to push Mr. Biden off the ticket, Mr. Trump opined that Democrats had no better candidates than his opponent, with whom he has been engaged in yearslong hostility and whom he confidently says he will defeat despite his loss to him in 2020.

And Mr. Trump seemed equally buoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday that federal prosecutors misused an obstruction law to prosecute some of his supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory and keep Mr. Trump in the White House.

To Mr. Trump, the court’s decision — facilitated in part, he pointed out, by the justices he appointed — lent credence to his frequent insistence that his supporters who marched on the Capitol, some of them turning to violence, were engaging in a political protest and were now being wrongfully prosecuted solely because they backed him over Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump told the crowd before him, which gathered in the summer heat in Chesapeake, Va., that the court had decided that Mr. Biden’s “department of injustice has wrongfully prosecuted hundreds of Americans for peacefully protesting on Jan. 6.”

The comment elicited one of the crowd’s most energized cheers during Mr. Trump’s 90-minute speech. Then, in unison, his supporters began to chant, “U.S.A.”

Mr. Trump had spent less time talking about his views on Jan. 6 in recent weeks, particularly as he made campaign stops in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit, where he has been courting Black voters. In the wake of the debate, he made another pitch to expand his coalition, saying, “whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, young or old, Black, brown or white, we welcome you to our movement.”

Mr. Trump, who has a history of making racist statements, continued his efforts to win over Black and Hispanic voters by asserting, without providing evidence, that the surge of migrants coming across the border illegally were taking “Black jobs.” And as he tries to win union workers in key battleground states, Mr. Trump seemed to openly court the president of the Teamsters union, Sean O’Brien, whom Mr. Trump invited to speak at the Republican National Convention next month.

“I don’t want to throw around names,” Mr. Trump said after mentioning Mr. O’Brien, “but he’s a good man.”

But with the debate behind him, Mr. Trump revived forceful language that he had dialed back only slightly in recent weeks, including his false claims of widespread election fraud in 2020 and his depiction of Mr. Biden as mentally unfit to run the country.

Mr. Trump was sharply critical of Mr. Biden’s leadership, knocking his debate performance repeatedly and using it as evidence that four more years of a Biden administration would steer the country in the wrong direction. And as he stood in Virginia, which has not voted for a Republican president since 2004 but which Mr. Trump hopes to flip, he argued that Mr. Biden’s poor performance in the debate was grounds to oust Democrats from power across the ballot.

“We don’t just need to fire Biden,” Mr. Trump said, as Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, looked on. “As you saw yesterday, the whole Democratic Party needs to get voted out of office.”

Mr. Trump argued that he would be “very happy” if Vice President Kamala Harris somehow became the nominee because he polled better against her. And he joked, insultingly, that Mr. Biden was wise to pick her because nobody wanted Ms. Harris to be president, an attack that his campaign made in an advertisement it aired during the debate.

At times, Mr. Trump — who during the debate agreed to accept the results of the 2024 election only if he found them to be fair — seemed to act as if the presidential race were wrapped up. He repeatedly referred to a “transition period,” a seeming reference to the period after the election but that he extended to include the months leading up to the election.

“We have a five-month transition period, and I want our enemies to know, don’t play around with us.”

Yet Mr. Trump once again repeated his contention that America was more threatened by “the enemy from within” — a reference to his political opponents — than from foreign powers like China, Russia and North Korea, which he said were “not really enemies if you have a smart president.”

Mr. Trump repeated some of the false claims he made during Thursday’s debate, again accusing Democrats of supporting abortions up until “after a baby is born.” No state has passed laws that would allow that, and Mr. Biden did not endorse it during the debate.

And he again argued that Mr. Biden had allowed a surge of migrants across the U.S. border with Mexico, which in turn had caused a surge of violent crime. Available statistics show that violent crime has declined, and there is no evidence of a spike in crime caused by migrants.

Mr. Trump’s supporters lined up for hours in the heat to hear him speak. At least three people needed medical attention as they waited for the former president to arrive.

Still, the mood seemed jubilant. Ahead of Mr. Trump’s arrival, several speakers — largely a parade of Republicans who at various points occupied the governor’s mansion in Virginia — asked the crowd whom they thought won the debate.

Unsurprisingly, each time the resounding answer was “Trump.”

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