SARASOTA — In a return to campaign-style rallies in Florida, former President Donald Trump urged his supporters in Sarasota to fight for conservative policies at every level.
Saturday’s Save America Rally in Sarasota attracted a record crowd to the Sarasota Fairgrounds, organizers said. The event gave Trump’s most fervent supporters an opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday weekend with the 45th president and other conservative firebrands.
“Together we will take back the House, take back the Senate and we will save America,” Trump said.
“There’s only one way to save our nation,” he added. “We have to work for a victory in the mid-terms next year. We have to keep fighting like we are right now.”
As he addressed the crowd, Trump looked back on his record while he was president. He touted his efforts to improve the economy, secure the border and support the military.
The difference under President Joe Biden has been stark, Trump contended. Since leaving office, Trump argued the country’s status as a foreign policy leader and the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border have declined. He also denounced Critical Race Theory, calls to defund the police and Biden’s proposed tax increases.
“What we’ve done is going to get better and better. The beautiful thing is people will see how bad it can go and how quickly it can be taken away,” Trump said.
Without evidence, Trump continued to peddle lies about the 2020 presidential election, calling it a “totally rigged and dishonest election.” There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election.
Pointing to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the charges filed this past week against the Trump Organization in New York, Trump also claimed that he had become an easy target for his opponents to score political points.
“Every abuse and attack they throw my way is solely because I have been fighting for you against the corrupt establishment,” Trump said. “What they’re doing is an atrocity and the American people will not stand for it.”
After Trump’s remarks, the Save America Rally lit up the sky with an extensive fireworks show as the audience worked its way toward the exit.
According to state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who also serves as chairman of the Florida GOP, Trump’s supporters set a record for attendance at a Republican event at the Sarasota Fairgrounds.
On what began as a blistering summer day, a line of Trump fans snaked around the entrance to the fairground hours before the rally began. They flew Trump and American flags that blew crisply in a strong breeze.
By early evening, however, the rainstorms invaded the rally, prompting visitors to don umbrellas, ponchos, towels and blankets. Ahead of Trump’s 90-minute speech, other conservative leaders credited the crowd for staying throughout the day, even though off-and-on rain soaked the crowd for hours.
“Through the rain, through the storm, you all are still here and soaking wet because you support America,” U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, said.
“I want to thank you. You got rained on for three hours, but you’re still here because you love your country,” Donald Trump Jr. added.
Supporters cheered as they heard from conservative leaders, such as U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County commissioner and vice-chair of the Florida GOP.
Though there has never been any substantial evidence of voter fraud that would have overturned Trump’s 2020 defeat as Trump has claimed, supporters in the crowd maintained that “Trump won.”
Among those waiting in line to hear the former president speak was Stacey Shinn.
“I feel like Trump won,” Shinn said. “I’m here because I believe in him and what he’s done for our country. I’m here to support him and let him know the people are behind him and believe him.”
Rosie Parrillo, who was further down the line to enter Saturday’s rally, expressed a similar belief in the former president.
“I’m here to show my support and be a part of history,” Parrillo said.
She hoped to hear one clear message from Trump: “I want to hear him say we are taking back the White House.”
Mike Lalonde is in the process of buying a home in Florida. Coming from Michigan, Lalonde said his former state’s government had failed him. As a huge fan of Gov. Ron DeSantis, he said the governor’s leadership encouraged him to make the move. The fact that Trump was planning a Save America rally nearby was a nice bonus for him.
“I’m here to support the best president that there has ever been,” Lalonde said. “He’s for the people. Anytime I can come out and support him and be around all these good people, that’s what’s it all about.”
Lalonde said it would make his day if Trump confirmed that he would run in the 2024 election. Even though there hasn’t been an official campaign announcement, Trump hasn’t been shy about dropping hints about his interest in taking back the White House. That’s OK with some of Trump’s biggest fans, who are eager to see him hold office again.
Ceia Brock, in her late 50s, cast her first-ever vote in the 2020 election. She supported Trump, “And I got robbed,” she said, still disappointed about the outcome of November’s presidential election.
Brock said she doesn’t want to wait for the 2024 election and claimed that Trump is the rightful president. She recalled waking up after Election Day to learn that President Joe Biden had pulled ahead in the race.
“I went to bed on election night and he was so far ahead,” she said. “I woke up and started crying. I was angry and am still angry. Does my vote even matter?”
Brock questions whether she will ever cast another vote — unless Trump is back on the ballot.
“I never paid attention before Trump,” Brock said. “I remember him talking about the deep state, but I never realized how high the corruption goes. I have no faith in our government and we need a leader who is tough and has balls.”
For that reason, “I’d vote for Trump again,” she said.