“Oh?” Greene perked up before she quickly lost breath when I told her I was a reporter. “You [the media] Don’t treat me very fair. ”
My days are usually not that … unusual. But, given the moment, it seemed strangely appropriate. Trump’s reappearance on the political stage promises to create an earthquake disruption in the American political system greater than the one it caused when he came down his gold-plated escalator six years ago. Where his followers were once hopeful, they now seemed offended. The crowd is more hectic, the conspiracies more fantastic, the cast of the characters more eccentric.
These include Greene, a newly-minted congresswoman from exurban Atlanta and self-proclaimed QAnon Repentance who – only six months in office – managed to be banned from her committees and almost convicted of likening wearing masks to the Holocaust . Such a résumé would have marginalized her in the past. But on our chat home, she explained how important she will be in the Trump comeback narrative.
The former president, she said, personally invited her to the rally and, if the schedule allows, she plans to attend his upcoming events across the country this summer.
Greene is an uncompromising guy, which in some ways explains why she is valued by Trump – a man who refuses to ever admit mistakes or apologize. On stage he praised her as “loved and respected, tough, smart and kind”.
On our flight home, she explained her fondness for controversial speech as a by-product of her northwest Georgia upbringing: This is how you talk at home. She said she felt the media unfairly rocked her, a mom and a businesswoman, even though the controversy that surrounds her is often created by themselves – like the time she made the headlines for being a part of People agreed who said the Parkland massacre was a “false flag shooting.” She told me that she continues to believe the 2020 elections were stolen even though their validity has been proven time and time again.
She never asked to be removed from the files when I sat there in our row, half asleep and half awake. It was a long 24 hours.
Trump supporters listen as the former president speaks at his rally outside Cleveland. | Nick Hagen for POLITICO magazine
Earlier that day I had traveled to the Lorain County Fairgrounds in rural northeast Ohio to cover Trump’s first real rally after the presidency. The events resemble a cross between a NASCAR tailgate and a traveling circus. Sellers from faraway states come to sell their MAGA hats and Trump t-shirts. There are die-hard fans who camp days in advance to get a prime position. Strangers give each other high fives and honk their car horns as they drive past houses that wave Trump or now “F — Biden” flags.
On Saturday night, Trump had come to town to support Congressional candidate Max Miller, a former White House adviser who got his support in part because he was a loyal foot soldier willing to take on Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one the 10 House Republicans who voted to indict Trump in the wake of the January 6th Capitol Riot.
But nobody seemed to care. Few of the participants gave an opinion on the congress race. Two people I interviewed from the 16th district didn’t even know who Gonzalez or Miller were.
Instead, they wanted to hear from Trump; and if not him, it is the supportive cast of allies who have zealously nurtured the fraud that the 2020 elections were stolen from voters like them.
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a Trump confidante and donor who has driven conspiracy theories about the election so wildly that he is now the culprit in a multi-million dollar libel suit by Dominion Voting Systems, has been greeted like a true rock star. In a suit and tie, sweat glistened from his face, he posed for selfies with the fans when they shouted “Hero!”. in his mere passing.
Lindell may have been one of the main characters of the evening, but the play itself was a fantasy about last November.
On stage, a Cincinnati math teacher gave a bizarre PowerPoint presentation to a patient audience, who squinted in the sun to see squiggle-line slides that he cited as evidence of widespread, coordinated electoral fraud. He used his fuzzy math to prove that Trump actually won the election, and the audience nodded along.
When it was Greene’s turn, she asked the audience, “Who is your President?” “Trump!” They replied, even though it is 2021 and Joe Biden is occupying the White House.
Not that the crowd took a lot of convincing. I asked Richard Stachurski, a Wellington, Ohio resident, if he wanted Trump to run in 2024.
“How do you run for president if you’re already president?” He replied.
When he finally took the stage, Trump attacked Biden’s politics and became lively as he turned to the past and talked about his negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his plans for a border wall.
It all had a familiarity. The chants of “4 MORE YEARS!” And “LOCK HIM IN!” (This time addressed to infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci instead of former campaign rival Hillary Clinton). The recitation of the eerie poem “The Snake”.
Yet there were signs that this rally was different. At previous rallies, Trump’s supporters applauded Trump as he devastated immigrants, demonized the media and repeated his calls to imprison his opponents. But they also hoped the real estate tycoon would give them a voice. There was a feeling that this charismatic outsider would empower them to change Washington and the joy that came with being part of a movement. Now they felt betrayed. “WE THE PEOPLE ARE AFRAID,” read a popular rally T-shirt. Their champion was no longer in office, which meant that all real power had been stripped from him. It seemed to fuel a sense of desperation, even from Trump himself.
“The subject is a little depressing,” he said of his own speech.