Read: Trump kicks off his 2020 reelection campaign
None of this is true, and Trump’s claims of fraud have come up short in every venue they’ve been pleaded save the right-wing media. This wasn’t just Trump venting: At times he was obviously reading from prepared remarks.
Nonetheless, the event was a chance—perhaps one of the last—for Trump to revel in a large campaign rally, COVID-19 be damned. From the moment he announced his candidacy at Trump Tower in the summer of 2015, he has loved occasions like this one. They are a chance for him to listen to his own voice as long as he wants, free-associating all the way, and to bask in the glow of adoration without reality intruding.
Trump held rallies right up to Election Day 2016, commenced holding reelection rallies almost immediately upon taking office, and now continues to hold them even after losing the election. He never showed much interest in the hard work of governance, whether that was negotiating with Congress or fighting the coronavirus. The Dalton rally will be one of the last big rallies of Trump’s presidency, and it was a classic of the form: sometimes entertaining, often incoherent, always erratic, and entirely terrifying.
Read: What is the point of a Trump rally in 2018?
Consumed by narcissism, Trump is heedless to the damage he is doing. There is the damage to the republic he is inflicting by undermining faith in elections and setting an example of unchecked election interference. There is also, however, the damage he may have done to Loeffler’s and Perdue’s reelection chances. State and national Republican Party officials have cringed at his approach to the runoffs. Initially, he was disengaged from party efforts, too busy wallowing in his own loss. Then his demand that Congress cut $2,000 stimulus checks—a demand quickly embraced by Democrats—put the senators in a difficult political bind.
Now he is getting involved in the race, but it’s not clear whether his bull-in-a-china-shop approach does more harm or good. By continuing to claim that the November election was rigged, he risks dampening enthusiasm among Republican voters, who might feel that their vote won’t count. He has also exacerbated internecine battles within the GOP. Tonight he promised to return to Georgia to campaign against Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who has declined to assist Trump’s attempts to overturn the vote in the state. (If he follows through, it will only be because that would give him a chance to talk about himself, not Kemp’s challenger.)
The question is whether this election is likely to turn out more like 2018, when Trump wasn’t on the ballot, held many rallies, and saw his party pounded, or like 2020, when Trump was on the ballot, held many rallies, and lost even as his party did well in congressional races. Perhaps he will end up helping the Senate candidates more than he hurts them—he’s certainly shown better raw political instincts than other Republicans before—and perhaps the Republicans will win despite his blundering.