Donald Trump goes off script in dehumanising rant at half-baked Ohio rally

Former president says his fans’ political enemies are ‘not people’ in some cases

John Bowden
Dayton, Ohio
Monday 18 March 2024 10:48 GMT
Donald Trump reacts after securing Republican presidential nomination

Former President Donald Trump is always in his least controllable state when unchained from his teleprompter — and Saturday afternoon’s rally in Dayton, Ohio was a prime example.

The event at the home of the Dayton Air Show was billed as an event to boost Bernie Moreno, a local car dealership mogul and business owner, to victory in the state’s quickly-approaching Senate primary on Tuesday. Mr Moreno, running his second campaign for Congress, is backed by Mr Trump’s endorsement for the first time and hopes that it will push him past his rivals in the Republican field. What sparse polling exists suggests that the race is tight, with single digits likely separating the three main candidates. Mr Trump’s favourite has a small lead, but a persistent one.

Saturday’s rally was anything but focused on Bernie Moreno, however. Over several hours at the rally The Independent spotted a grand total of one sign proclaiming support for the would-be senator, and none was being sold by the multitude of vendors lined up on the approach to the airfield.

That isn’t to say he wasn’t mentioned at all — current Senator JD Vance, himself a through-and-through Trump loyalist (after a rather embarrassing about-face on that issue) issued a stern call to send him back up in the upper chamber, while Mr Trump mock-pleaded with him to win on Tuesday. But time reserved for the man-supposedly-of-the-hour, whose election is just three days away, was still eclipsed by Mr Trump’s own campaigning for a second term and his ranting against Joe Biden and the Democrats who thwarted him in 2020.

And boy was that a sore topic. It was on this issue that Mr Trump departed almost completely from his prepared remarks as he labelled his political opponents inhuman: “In some cases, they’re not people.” He’d provoke that same dehumanising imagery as he delivered his latest rant against illegal immigration, this time eyeing a new enemy in the arrival of residents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Repeating “they’re coming in from Africa”, the former president sarcastically declared: “The Congo’s a very nice place, I imagine.”

It was a typical Trump speech in many ways, and only atypical in the sense that the former president’s growing inability to couch his more shocking impulses in politically-acceptable language was on greater display than usual.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the event was how small it was. The event was not held directly in a major population centre, instead taking place roughly an hour from Columbus. Overall, Mr Trump’s crowd size on Saturday appeared to be much smaller than his typical rally size; with an eyeball estimate, the event appeared to have roughly doubled the size of ex-rival Nikki Haley’s final rally in her home state of South Carolina before that state’s primary election; perhaps a thousand people, maybe less. The total was definitively smaller — to the scale of thousands — than the crowd that gathered for Mr Trump’s last rally in support of a Senate candidate in the state, his appearance boosting JD Vance at an arena in Youngstown two years ago.

To add insult to injury, The Independent watched as at least a few hundred Trump fans exited the event while the former president was still speaking. Many cited the cold wind at the outdoor event as their reason; one woman bluntly remarked that she “need[ed] a beer”. Others wanted to beat traffic, which even after the event fully concluded was not dramatic.

To be fair, this was an outdoor rally held on a windy day in late-late winter. There were plenty of valid reasons to not stand outside for hours to see a once-and-maybe-future president, but many of his most excited fans did so anyway. One young woman told The Independent that the first chairs with Trump fans planted in line appeared around 6am.

But if Saturday was any indication of what to expect for the rest of the campaign season, Mr Trump has a real problem with his enthusiasm — specifically among independents and those who don’t consider themselves his fans (or superfans). He will continue to attract hundreds, maybe thousands of supporters as the race goes on. But those thousands will largely be made up of his most ardent loyalists — his appeal with the greater masses is fading.

Whether that trend really means that the Trump train is slowing down — or just hitting a speedbump before he shocks the DC establishment again in November — is a total unknown. But a Democrat who watched Saturday’s appearance of the former president from the sidelines could very well walk away with some comfort, both in terms of the kind of candidate Donald Trump is presenting and the kind of supporters he is still able to turn out.

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