Former president Donald Trump held a rally in Wilmington on Friday, his first since New York attorney general Letitia James announced her civil lawsuit against him, his three eldest children, his business associates, and the Trump organisation this week.
Not surprisingly, his complaints about that lawsuit occupied the majority of his speech, followed immediately by the FBI executing the raid on his Mar-a-Lago home.
But the rally was also the former president’s chance to return a conquering hero, since most of the candidates he endorsed in the state won their primaries.
In addition, Mr Trump continued the practice that caught many people’s attention in Ohio where he played dramatic music, which led to people holding their fingers in the air – a salute tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory – though not as many.
Here are five takeaways from Mr Trump’s rally in Wilmington:
Trump’s takeover of the North Carolina GOP
In 2021, Republican Senator Richard Burr, who is retiring, voted to convict the former president for his role in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. In turn, Mr Trump chose to endorse representative Ted Budd, who objected to the 2020 presidential election results. Throughout the rally, Mr Trump directly addressed the congressman, whom he backed instead of former governor Pat McCrory.
Conversely, during the state primary, North Carolina’s Republican establishment – including senator Thom Tillis and Tim Moore – backed a primary challenger against representative Madison Cawthorn, the right-wing firebrand congressman whom Mr Trump endorsed. However, there was no evidence of antipathy.
Similarly, Mr Trump chose not to call out Mr Tillis despite the fact that the former president criticised the gun legislation that the senator helped negotiate with Democrats.
Instead, he focused on his ties to the state – such as the fact that his daughter-in-law Lara Trump is from Wilmington and the fact he tried to recruit her for the Senate race.
“You know, she’s so popular. She grew up in North Carolina. She’s incredible,” he said, though he noted that she was the one who suggested he endorse Mr Budd.
Similarly, he noted how he had property in Lake Norman, which is just outside of Charlotte.
“In fact, I’d like to go from here, Ted, over to Lake Norman and do something,” he said.
Mr Trump’s preferred candidate in the May primary for North Carolina’s 13th district Bo Hines also spoke at the rally, saying, “President Trump might be the first president that actually delivered on every single one of his promises.”
Lawsuits are still at the front of mind
Despite the fact the rally was ostensibly for Republican candidates in North Carolina and Mr Trump is not on the ballot, he could not help but focus primarily on the FBI executing a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago home in West Palm Beach or Ms James’s lawsuit against him.
Indeed, before Mr Trump took the stage, the two monitors on the sides of the stage played a segment from Fox News’ host Jesse Watters comparing Mr Trump’s storage of documents with that of the previous four former presidents.
But the former president also used the rally to air his grievances against Ms James’s lawsuit against him, his family and his business organization, which she called “The Art of the Steal” at a Wednesday press conference.
“There’s no better example of the chilling obsession with targeting political opponents than the baseless, abusive and depraved lawsuit against me, my family, my company, by the racist attorney general of New York state,” he said, giving her the moniker “Letitia ‘Peekaboo’ James.”
Trump’s disdain for Black women seeps throughout his speech
Mr Trump’s dislike of female public figures who challenge him – be they Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Meryl Streep or Rosie O’Donnell – is well-known. But throughout his speech, he repeatedly ridiculed Ms James, a Black woman, in incredibly personal terms, saying that she is more focused on attacking him than focusing on violent crime.
“This raging maniac campaign for office ranting and raving about her goal – her only goal is, we got to get Donald Trump,” he said about Ms James. “In fact, I was watching it and I said ‘boy, that woman is angry, I don’t think she likes me too much.’”
Mr Trump and Republicans as a whole have zeroed in on crime as a way to criticize Democrats and win back suburban female voters after the Supreme Court overturned Dobbs v Jackson. In the same token, he criticised Mr Budd’s Democratic challenger Cheri Beasley, a former Chief Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court who is running to be the first Black woman Senator from the state.
Specifically, he cited an Federal Election Commission report that Republicans have also pointed to that showed that Ms Beasley’s campaign appeared in a joint fundraising committee with Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, a member of the Squad who supports reducing police funding, which the Associated Press reported last month.
“She wants to defund the police,” he said, despite the fact that Ms Beasley has said she wants to increase police funding. “Is she crazy? How the hell do these people get votes? By cheating.”
The Big Lie becomes a normal campaign talking point
Throughout the rally, Mr Trump noted how he won the election twice, even though he didn’t, and faulted Democrats for stealing the election. This came despite the fact that he won North Carolina twice, though he won it by a smaller margin in 2020.
Nevertheless, he called for ending early voting and said that voting should only take place in person on election day with hand-marked paper ballots. Last week, The New York Times reported that Mr Budd’s spokesman Jonathan Felts declined to say whether he’d accept the results of the election if he were to lose and went so far to say that Ms Beasley would disenfranchise voters.
But he isn’t alone. State House speaker Tim Moore spoke specifically about what he called “election integrity.”
“We’re going to continue to work on that because we know that elections have to be free, have to be fair and they have to be just,” he said. “What’s the best thing you can do? How about this? A real complex idea: Require the people to vote on election day, in person, with a photo ID. That makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
At the same time, Mr Trump had to balance his lies about the election with a need to motivate voters.
“You don’t have a choice,” he said. “We’re not going to have a country left. You gotta get out. You got to swamp them.”
Trump’s finger salute moment is revived
During his rally in Ohio last week, Mr Trump and rally goers confused many when he played dramatic music while attendees pointed one finger in the air. Mr Trump repeated the practice this time, albeit it looked like fewer people raised their fingers in the air during the rally.
A few people who attended the rally had QAnon memorabilia, with some attendees wearing QAnon hats and one truck having an image of Mr Trump with John F Kennedy Jr and former president John F Kennedy, prominent figures in the QAnon conspiracy theories.
Gay Gaines said she approved of the use.
“I loved it, it was very emotional, very touching, very inspirational, very uplifting, and hopeful,” she said. “Good way to end it.”
This came as the former president posted a series of QAnon-related content on Truth Social, his networking platform. Lisa Pyle, who wore a hat with the Q symbol, told The Independent that she appreciated his use of Q symbolism.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said, but adding that she wasn’t voting in this coming election.
“Hell no,” she said. “Would you vote in a broken election if you knew? If you knew the truth?”