Valdosta, Georgia, United States — Randy Sell drove nearly 25 hours from his home in Buffalo, New York to see President Donald Trump speak in Georgia over the weekend, a nearly 2,000km (1,242-mile) journey made on behalf of a US president who lost his bid for re-election.
“I want him to know I got his back,” Sell said while he stood in line with friends who also made the drive from New York. “I don’t mind driving 25 hours to come down here to show him that I’m with you, President Trump.”
Sell joined tens of thousands of like-minded Trump supporters for a raucous “victory” rally at an airport near the Florida border, an uncommonly high post-election turnout for a lame-duck president with only a few weeks left in the White House. The rally was held to support Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Republican Senate candidates from Georgia whose runoff elections on January 5 will determine control of the US Senate, but it was Trump who served as the main attraction.
Although Trump is leaving office, the rally’s size sent a message: Trump may be exiting centre stage, but his passionate base of supporters is not going anywhere. Trump’s presence and influence will remain an ongoing part of the Republican Party.
The thousands of attendees at the rally Saturday, who stood near each other for several hours while shouting, dancing and singing—mostly without masks despite an ongoing worldwide coronavirus pandemic — were united and energised by a common belief that Democrats had stolen the presidential election from Trump.
“President Trump is a winner. He knows it. I know it. We all know it. The world knows it,” said Valla Ann Marcus of Atlanta, Georgia. “He won.”
For weeks, Trump and his allies have unsuccessfully challenged vote counts in states across the country in an effort to overturn the November election. His team has filed dozens of lawsuits in court, but all have failed. Last week, after recounts confirmed that Democrat Joe Biden had won in Georgia, Trump even tried to pressure the state’s governor, Republican Brian Kemp, to hold a special session of the legislature to overrule the will of the state’s voters. The governor refused. On Monday Georgia officials recertified the results showing Biden’s victory.
Even after every legal effort by Trump’s team has been stymied by the courts, Trump continues to make baseless claims that he was cheated out of a second term. He repeated the accusation several times during his speech Saturday while also encouraging Georgia Republicans to vote in the upcoming runoff elections.
“They rigged our presidential election, but we’ll still win it,” Trump said Saturday, adding later in his speech: “We will never give in and we will never back down. We will never, ever surrender.”
Egged on by the president’s confidence, his supporters continue to hold out hope that Trump will be able to somehow find a win before Inauguration Day on January 20.
“We’re going to turn this thing around and we’re going to make sure that Joe Biden and [Vice-President elect] Kamala Harris do not occupy the White House,” said Shelia DeLashmutt of Canton, Georgia, who said she believes the election was “fraudulent”.
Denise Watson, from Midway, Georgia, also said she believed Trump would remain in the White House.
“By George, he’s going back in for four more years! Eight if we can,” she said. “You’ve got to trust the good Lord that it’s going to get fixed. He can always work it out. He’ll have the last word. It don’t matter.”
Loeffler and Perdue, who appeared with Trump at the rally, know that they need backing from Trump’s hardcore supporters like these to win in January. (Polls show both runoffs at a statistical tie.)
While other Georgia Republican officials have pushed back against Trump’s attacks on the state’s voting integrity, the Senate candidates have stood with him. Both have called for the resignation of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger.
And at a candidate debate on Sunday, Loeffler refused to acknowledge that Trump lost the election. On Saturday, when Loeffler spoke on stage, she pumped her fist when people in the audience shouted, “Stop the steal!”
“That’s right,” she said. “We have to have a free and fair election.”
Later that night, both Senate candidates were reminded of the consequences of not adequately supporting Trump. When they tried to speak on stage alongside the president, the crowd shouted over them, chanting “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!”
The lingering threat wasn’t subtle: Follow Trump, or else.