Former President Trump on Saturday will hold his first rally since the FBI searched his home in Florida.
Trump is ostensibly heading to Pennsylvania to help boost support for the teetering campaigns of Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, both of whom he backed in their Republican primary races.
But Trump is expected to unleash on President Biden, the Department of Justice and the FBI in a speech that will take place two days after Biden described Trump and his movement as an urgent threat to democracy.
Here are five things to watch:
How Trump addresses the FBI search
Saturday’s event in Wilkes-Barre will be Trump’s first political rally since FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8.
The former president has addressed the search at length on Truth Social, his fledgling social media platform, but he has yet to speak about it in front of throngs of energized supporters, where Trump tends to use his most bombastic and incendiary rhetoric.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) in filings has laid out how it spent months unsuccessfully trying to get sensitive government documents back from Trump after he left office, culminating in the August search. A redacted affidavit indicated that the government received 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago with dozens of documents marked “secret” or “top secret,” raising concerns that additional highly sensitive materials were still at the residence and prompting the search.
The legal battle over Trump’s retention of government materials is still playing out in court as his team seeks to draw out the government’s investigation.
But Trump on Saturday is likely to whip his supporters into a frenzy, railing against the politicization of the FBI and DOJ and arguing he is the victim of a political witch hunt intended to discourage him from running for president in 2024.
How Trump responds to Biden warning he’s a threat to democracy
Trump will travel to a city just outside Biden’s hometown of Scranton two days after the president spoke in Philadelphia and described the former president’s political movement as a grave threat to American democracy.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said in Philadelphia on Thursday, clarifying on Friday that he was not saying all Trump voters posed a threat to the country.
Biden highlighted Trump’s proclivity for casting doubt on election results, elevating conspiracy theories and attacking law enforcement, most recently over the search of his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump is likely to hit back at Biden when he takes the stage on Saturday night, according to one official close to the former president, framing the president’s remarks as a divisive attack on millions of Trump voters.
“Someone should explain to Joe Biden, slowly but passionately, that MAGA means, as powerfully as mere words can get, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump posted on Truth Social after Biden’s speech. “If he doesn’t want to Make America Great Again, which through words, action, and thought, he doesn’t, then he certainly should not be representing the United States of America!”
The expected back-and-forth between Biden and Trump underscores the degree to which the White House is trying to make the midterms a referendum on the former president as he backs candidates like Oz and Mastriano, the latter of whom has repeatedly cast doubt on the 2020 election results.
It also serves as a preview of a potential 2024 presidential race as Trump mulls another bid and Biden indicates he will seek reelection.
A Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday found Biden leading Trump by 6 percentage points in a hypothetical rematch of the 2020 election.
Trump looks to boost Oz and Mastriano
The primary purpose of Saturday’s rally is for Trump to boost the candidacies of Oz and Mastriano, as polls show both trailing their Democratic rivals.
Oz in particular has struggled to gain traction since Trump’s endorsement helped propel him to victory in a competitive primary over David McCormick, who had the support of other Trump administration officials.
A FiveThirtyEight average of polls showed Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leading Oz by 8 points, 48 to 40, and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report last week moved the race from “toss-up” to “lean Democrat.”
Fetterman has spent limited time on the campaign trail in recent weeks as he recovers from a stroke he suffered just before the primary, something the Oz campaign has seized on. But Oz has struggled to win over voters given his loose ties to Pennsylvania, and a boost from Trump could be critical to help close the gap.
Mastriano, meanwhile, has fully embraced Trump’s rhetoric about the 2020 election and other policies backed by the former president. Trump’s appearance on Saturday is certain to further solidify support for Mastriano among the base, but it remains to be seen if he can win over enough moderate voters to defeat Democratic rival Josh Shapiro.
A poll last week from Emerson College Polling shows Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, with a 47-44 lead over Mastriano, with 6 percent of respondents undecided.
Trump kicks off his general election push
Trump was active in the primaries, endorsing candidates and joining them in person before primary days, but Saturday will mark the former president’s first general election rally of the 2022 midterm cycle.
Sources in Trump’s orbit indicated he is likely to travel to battleground states in the two months remaining before Election Day, and particularly states with races involving his endorsed candidates that are likely to be competitive, like North Carolina, Michigan and Georgia.
Senate races in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, in particular, could help determine control of the Senate for the next two years, and each features candidates endorsed by Trump.
The former president remains very popular among Republicans, and GOP leaders will rely on him to help boost turnout.
One potential issue, however, is that Republicans have tended to underperform in elections where Trump himself is not on the ballot, such as the 2018 midterms and recent special House elections won by Democrats. Republicans hope that an active Trump in the next two months will lead to high turnout.
One former Trump campaign adviser also noted that how the former president’s preferred candidates fare could be a major factor in how easily Trump is able to clear the GOP field ahead of a 2024 primary. If several of his candidates lose and his influence appears to be diminished, it could embolden other Republicans interested in seeking the presidency, the official reasoned.
Rally underscores Pennsylvania’s importance
The presence of both Trump and Biden in Pennsylvania within days of each other reinforces the political importance of the Keystone State.
Trump’s rally on Saturday is being sandwiched by two visits from Biden. The president was in Philadelphia on Thursday for his speech about democracy, and he will travel Monday to Pittsburgh to mark Labor Day. Trump may also return to the state for another rally for Oz and Mastriano before November’s elections.
Pennsylvania was pivotal in deciding the presidency in 2016 and 2020, it will be a potential turning point in control of the Senate in 2022 and it will likely be a fierce battleground in 2024.
Biden carried Pennsylvania by roughly 80,000 votes, but the state was a major target of attacks from Trump and his allies after it took days to finish counting votes and determine the winner.
Given the state’s rules about when it starts counting mail ballots and other forms of early voting, a close race could provide another opening for Trump and his supporters to levy baseless claims of fraud should his preferred candidates lose.