Trump rally in Arizona: Former president calls Biden 'a disaster' for the country

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·21 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States
  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

Former President Donald Trump's first rally of 2022 will be in Florence, where several Republican candidates will take the stage as well.

Trump's appearance Saturday will be his second in the state since leaving office and underscores his continued importance in GOP circles nearly one year after departing the White House.

Follow coverage of the Trump rally by Republic reporters here throughout the day Saturday.

PAST COVERAGE BY THE REPUBLIC

DEMOCRACY IN DOUBT: Trump, allies pushed to undermine 2020 election

HOW WE GOT HERE: An Arizona election audit timeline

ARIZONA ELECTION REVIEW DISCREDITED: 'Results were meaningless': Analysts say they cannot validate or replicate Cyber Ninjas' hand count of votes

MARICOPA COUNTY RESPONSE: Cyber Ninjas' report was misleading, inaccurate and false, county says

10 p.m.: Speech hits mark with Florence crowd

Wearing a pink Trump cowboy hat and clutching several "Let’s Go Brandon” hats, Kaia Sisk of Mesa clung on the former president’s every word.

“I love it,” she said.

Florence was Sisk’s third Trump rally.

“He’s awesome,” Sisk said. “He is funny. I love his personality. He’s fun.”

Jonathan Foright of Washington said Trump’s message Saturday was important and engaging.

Especially when it comes to protecting Americans and “when he talks about the danger to democracy and our freedom,” Foright said.

“He’s trying to do everything he can to protect that freedom,” he said.

The existential threat to liberty is one of the reasons Foright said he is in the process of moving from the Northwest to Florida.

Foright called Trump a good man. And he hopes he will run again for president.

“If he decides not to run in 2024, (Florida Gov.) Ron DeSantis is my guy.”

Though people attending the event left happy, when they got to their cars their mood may have turned sour. Many people leaving the venue had to wait more than an hour before they could exit the dirt parking lots and get on the road.

— Robert Anglen

9:15 p.m.: Trump uses rally to bash Biden, Ducey

Former President Donald Trump used his 93-minute remarks at his rally in Florence to give a fresh blistering to his usual foils President Joe Biden, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the media to the resounding support of the thousands of diehard supporters at Canyon Moon Ranch.

Trump also renewed his grievances and cast his four years in office as a period of unprecedented prosperity and security.

Early in his remarks, which ended at 8:51 p.m., Trump cast Biden's administration as an unfolding disaster and continued his baseless claims of widespread election fraud in 2020.

"Biden has utterly humiliated our nation," Trump said, saying that Russia and China's leaders no longer respect or fear America.

Trump said the past year under Biden has been a "disaster" but said there would be a good political end to the "catastrophe" at the outset of the new year.

The speech was an updated version of Trump’s usual America-first rhetoric, long on personal boasts and lacking in subtlety.

“The country is being destroyed,” he said, after citing rising inflation and the nation’s disastrous retreat from Afghanistan. “Our country is being totally destroyed.”

Trump called the COVID-19 response under Biden a disaster, from vaccine mandates to testing shortages.

“I’m proud I was the anti-mandate president,” Trump said. “We gave Biden every tool he could want. … He’s incapable.”

Trump kept much of his speech focused on Biden, noting the president’s dismal approval ratings and accusing him of being clueless on tackling the nation’s current problems.

Trump repeated his criticism of former ally Gov. Doug Ducey, a fellow Republican who is mulling a run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly.

“He’s not going to get my endorsement,” Trump said of Ducey. “Ducey has been a terrible, terrible representative of your state.”

— Ronald J. Hansen

8:25 p.m.: Trump denounces prosecution of Jan. 6 rioters

Donald Trump blasted the House of Representatives select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

He called the U.S. prosecution of defendants charged with storming the Capitol an “appalling persecution of political prisoners.”

He said many of the people at the Capitol were FBI informants, not Trump supporters.

At the same time, Trump described the supporters he spoke to from the Ellipse, near the White House, on Jan. 6 before the attack on the Capitol as one of the largest crowds he’s ever seen.

Trump called the officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt inside the Capitol a “dope.”

Trump pointed to social protests during 2020 and asked why the Department of Justice wasn’t going after people who participated in them. “Why aren’t they doing it to Antifa and Black Lives Matter?” he said.

— Robert Anglen

7:25 p.m.: Former President Trump takes the stage

After more than two hours of speeches by other politicians, Trump took the stage at 7:17 p.m. with Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" playing.

His first sentences mentioned a "rigged election," "The Big Lie is a lot of bullshit" and "I ran twice and I won twice."

He called Joe Biden, who defeated him in the 2020 election, "a disaster for this country."

He mentioned unseating U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in 2022 and electing Kari Lake as governor.

Lake joined Trump on stage briefly and pledged, "We will finish your big beautiful wall."

— Kathy Tulumello

Out for Arizona governor: Kimberly Yee will run for reelection as treasurer

7:25 p.m.: Gubernatorial candidate captures hearts in crowd

Kari Lake took to the stage with a canned soundtrack of applause booming out of the speakers – but she didn’t need it.

The crowd embraced the former TV New anchor turned gubernatorial candidate. Her message of cracking down on undocumented immigrants, canceling mask mandates and anti-abortion legislation resonated strongly.

“I love her,” said Evelyn Harless of Mesa. “Everything she said needs to happen … She’s going to get something done for Arizona.”

Harless, who turned 70 last year, had never attended a political rally before coming to Florence Saturday. And while Trump was the headliner, Lake stole her heart.

“She is just true to her word,” she said.

Harless said she thought Lake’s stance on border security was tough and direct. “I like people coming into this country. I just want it done legally,” she said.

John LeTourneau of Mesa used the same words to describe his adulation for Lake: “I love her,” he said.

LeTourneau said he will have no trouble voting for her for governor.

“She’s honest, sincere and wants to fix things that are wrong with Arizona,” he said.

He praised her stance on the border and keeping elections secure. And he said her criticisms of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president on COVID-19, were welcome.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Fauci is crooked as hell.”

For Lisa Pray, a soon-to-be-grandma from Dewey, it was Lake’s message of pushing anti-abortion legislation that moved her.

She said she is proud Lake is willing to push “heartbeat laws” and showed a sonogram picture of her daughter’s new child: “That’s not a fetus. That’s a baby.”

Pray said Lake represents Arizona, “she represents us.”

— Robert Anglen

7:20 p.m.: Democrats issue statement on Trump rally

Democratic National Committee spokesperson Adonna Biel released a statement before former President Donald Trump spoke in Florence.

“Let there be no mistake, the Republican Party has surrendered to Donald Trump’s stranglehold and fully embraced him no matter the cost to our democracy or Americans’ lives," it read in part.

"Tonight's rally will serve as little more than a reminder of the chaos and extremism of today’s Republican Party, and why 81 million Americans rejected Donald Trump in 2020 to elect President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Democrats who have led the fastest economic recovery in history, delivered a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to repair Arizona’s roads and bridges, gotten Americans vaccinated, and helped create over 6 million jobs.”

— Kathy Tulumello

7 p.m.: Kari Lake vows no COVID-19 mandates, calls out migrants, Biden

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake began her speech echoing the theme of some of the other speakers, praising America under Trump and listing its problems under Biden. As did others, she called Trump “president” and slammed the 2020 election as “rotten to the core.”

She vowed to “close every single loophole that allows them to cheat,” though she didn’t give details.

Her wide-ranging comments touched on COVID-19 mandates that she said “people are no longer willing to put up with.”

Claiming she was up “30 points” or more in polls of voters, Lake said, “There will be no mandates and no lockdowns” with her as governor.

She also called out migrants without papers. “To the people flooding across our border: When I’m governor, you will be arrested and sent back across the border.”

It’s unclear exactly how she would do that without federal cooperation, but her comments echoed those at a news conference on border security on Tuesday by state lawmakers and Ken Cuccinelli, a former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official under Trump, who claimed that the “self-defense clause” in the U.S. Constitution allows states to take action even without the federal government in times of invasion.

“We are being invaded, and China is pushing deadly fentanyl through Mexico,” said Lake, who then addressed Biden: “It’s going to stop with me … We do not need your protection, your permission to defend our state.”

She vowed to finish building Trump’s border wall in Arizona, sparking crowd members to chant, “Build that wall! Build that wall!”

— Ray Stern

6:40 p.m.: Members of Congress, candidates cheer Trump, boo others

The crowd booed the news media, booed Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and booed election workers. Crowd members may have been Republicans, but they were firmly committed to one man, Donald Trump, and the idea that Biden stole the election from him.

The politicians who warmed up the crowd for Trump hammered home the points. U.S. House members Debbie Lesko, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar ripped Biden and exhorted the crowd to get ready for the next elections.

“Can you feel the storm building?” Gosar asked.

Anthony Kern, a former state representative who’s running for state Senate and who was in Washington near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, began yelling, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as the former president’s helicopter descended to the festival grounds shortly after 5:30 p.m. “Welcome to Arizona, Mr. President!”

On Dec. 14, 2020, Kern and 10 other Arizonans, including state GOP Chair Kelli Ward and Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, signed a document that was sent to Congress with a false avowal that they constituted Arizona’s official vote in the Electoral College.

All 11 people were listed on the general election ballot as the would-be electors for Trump.

But Trump had lost Arizona. Ducey had certified the election results in late November. By state statute, the only electors who mattered were those pledged to cast their votes for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as they did Dec. 14, 2020, at noon.

The document the Republicans signed, obtained from the National Archives last year by the group American Oversight, overlooked that detail.

It described the “undersigned” as the “duly elected and qualified Electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of Arizona …”

Referring to complaints that he and those electors should be criminally charged, Kern said the “real criminals are the ones who stole the election.”

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who’s running for Arizona secretary of state, continued that tack.

“We are so blessed to have Donald Trump with us here today. We know the election was stolen,” Rogers said.

“They attacked Donald Trump because he exposed them and their evil deeds!” Finchem said.

— Ray Stern and Richard Ruelas

6:10 p.m.: State senators continue to claim election fraud

State lawmakers Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, told the crowd to stay committed to the election denial conspiracy, as they would.

Borrelli pushed back on the fact that the belief in widespread election fraud that stole the presidency from Trump in 2020 was a “conspiracy theory.” He said there was indeed a conspiracy, but he claims "it’s not a theory.”

He said the problem was “obstructionists” who oversee elections at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office and in Maricopa County.

Townsend and Borrelli were among 30 current and former Arizona lawmakers who signed a resolution asking for the 2020 election to be handed to Trump or for the election certification to be delayed. Borrelli said that many of his peers in the Arizona House and Senate were behind him and other election deniers and that they were going to “tighten up the loopholes that these commie (expletive) have exploited.”

The crowd cheered as Borrelli claimed that the “shamestream media” were hiding facts like “ghost voters” he says were found to have voted in Pima County in 2020. Pima County election officials deny there were any widespread problems with the election.

Townsend asked how many in the crowd had volunteered for the 2020 election or the Senate-led audit — dozens or more raised their hands. She reminded them that state Attorney General Mark Brnovich is investigating findings from the Senate-led audit and led people in a chant:

“What do we want? Indictments! When do we want them? Now!”

She referred to unnamed enemies who are “constantly scheming” to steal elections.

“We want indictments of the election workers so that they don’t continue to do this,” she said before going on to condemn “medical tyranny” she sees in COVID-19 emergency measures.

— Ray Stern

5:30 p.m.: Traffic jams delay Trump fans outside venue

Traffic for the Trump rally was backed up for more than an hour outside Country Thunder in Florence. The line to the front gate snaked back and forth and trailed far into a dirt parking lot as people waited.

Bobby Parsons of Cottonwood said he and his wife arrived at 1 p.m. and waited for more than three hours and still hadn't made it into the main arena. But he didn't mind, not at all.

Parsons said he loved the energy of the crowd and couldn't wait to see Trump. And if there's one message he hopes Trump delivers, it is: "Tell Biden to get the hell out."

— Robert Anglen

5:15 p.m.: Spending time with 'thousands of people who feel the same way'

Two Arizona social workers said their biggest reason for attending the Trump rally is concern for their clients. They said the Biden administration’s handling of the economy has put people who need government services at risk.

“I work for the State of Arizona in the Disability Division, said Colette Lofgren of Apache Junction. “So many people have left their jobs at the state that we cannot get services for people.”

The "Great Resignation" has left the agency with such a backlog that workers are struggling to get to them.

Her friend Sandra Wilson of Mesa nodded in agreement. Wilson works for the Department of Child Safety and said the same issues plague her office.

Arizona social workers Sandra Wilson of Mesa (left) and Colette Lofgren of Apache Junction attend the Donald Trump rally in Florence on Jan. 15, 2022.
Arizona social workers Sandra Wilson of Mesa (left) and Colette Lofgren of Apache Junction attend the Donald Trump rally in Florence on Jan. 15, 2022.

The women both said the country’s economic situation, with inflation and supply-chain issues, have taken a personal toll.

“I was getting to the age of retirement,” Lofgren said. “There is no way under this administration that I can move forward with my dreams.”

Lofgren said a year ago she was preparing to build a home in Mississippi but abandoned those plans as costs rose.

“There was no way I can build a house,” she said.

Both women said they want to support President Donald Trump, who is the rightful leader of the country.

Wilson said she has attended several Trump rallies and enjoys the camaraderie.

“I can be with good friends and be with thousands and thousands of people who feel the same way,” she said.

— Robert Anglen

4:55 p.m.: Ward: Who won the election? Crowd: Trump

Many — if not most — people in the crowd seemed to believe Trump’s insistence that he really won the election by “a lot.” A year of investigation, numerous courts throwing out lawsuits claiming they had evidence of fraud and the results of the audit authorized by the Arizona Senate did not seem to deter crowd members from their belief.

Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, who took the stage first, made that clear. She gave a brief speech that began by asking the crowd to respond to the question “Who won the election?”

Kelli Ward speaks before the crowd at former President Donald Trump's Save America Rally in Florence, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.
Kelli Ward speaks before the crowd at former President Donald Trump's Save America Rally in Florence, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

“Trump!” the crowd roared.

Seeming to address concerns by many Republicans about the election system, Ward urged people to “please, please go out and vote.”

Ward claimed that “cheating” also occurred in 2016, but “we overwhelmed their cheating algorithm.”

“Get rid of Dominion! Get rid of drop boxes!” she shouted. “Let’s restore integrity to our election.”

Many of the people in the crowd wore colorful costumes, Trump apparel and shirts supporting Trump or Arizona Republican candidates for office such as gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake or U.S. Senate contender Jim Lamon.

The crowd included many young people and senior citizens, though most in attendance seemed to be middle-aged. The festival atmosphere included food trucks, loudspeakers blaring a mix of country and classic rock, long lines for the portable toilets and a stage with bleachers for VIPs.

Diehard belief in the falsehood that Trump actually won the 2020 election was a strong theme.

Tamera Rayl of Tucson, who was hanging out on a blanket with family members, said she believes Biden won through fraud and hopes Arizona lawmakers “get rid of the machines” used in elections and go back to paper ballots that would be hand-counted.

She believes like-minded Republicans will still be “mad enough” over the 2020 election results to show up at the polls this year despite beliefs that the election system is broken.

— Ray Stern

4:45 p.m.: Speaker lineup includes Lake, 3 members of Congress

Besides Trump, speakers were expected to include several politicians who have spread falsehoods about the 2020 election and supported rioters who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. They include:

  • U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.

  • U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

  • U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.

  • State Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.

  • State Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

  • State Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff.

  • Kari Lake, candidate for Arizona governor.

  • Anthony Kern, former state representative and candidate for state Senate.

  • Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party.

  • Alveda King, 2020 campaign advisory board member.

  • Boris Epshteyn, Trump strategic adviser and 2020 campaign board member.

  • Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow.

“You know what day it is,” a voice said over the loudspeaker at about 4 p.m. “It’s Trump Day! Let’s go, Brandon!”

Many in the crowd responded in kind with the veiled, obscene insult of President Joe Biden.

— Ray Stern

Crowd waits in line to enter the grounds at Country Thunder for the Donald Trump rally on Jan. 15, 2022.
Crowd waits in line to enter the grounds at Country Thunder for the Donald Trump rally on Jan. 15, 2022.

3:55 p.m.: Crowd gathers for speeches, rally

Thousands of spectators began to gather Saturday afternoon at the Country Thunder festival grounds, with traffic backups on State Route 79. Gates opened at 2 p.m. More than a dozen ATVs lined State Route 79 just before the entrance, waving flags and cheering those lined up in their cars. A single protester stood across from a Mercedes sedan on the entry road to the venue, waving a sign with the United States code on it.

— Robert Anglen

10:30 a.m.: What's on Trump's list of talking points?

Trump gave a preview of the Saturday rally that suggests he will continue pushing baseless claims of election fraud.

"Look forward to seeing everyone in Arizona tomorrow! Many topics will be discussed including the Rigged Presidential Election of 2020, the fake Big Lie, the corrupt LameStream Media, the Afghanistan disaster, Inflation, the sudden lack of respect for our Nation and its leaders, and much more," Trump said in a written statement Friday. "Big crowds, will also be covered on TV. See you Saturday evening!"

— Ronald J. Hansen

DEMOCRACY IN DOUBT: Read the series that gets inside the Arizona election review

9 a.m.: Trump takes a shot at Gov. Ducey

Hours before his appearance in Florence, Trump took yet another shot at Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who has become a frequent punching bag for the former president ever since Ducey signed off on the 2020 election results.

“Rumors are that Doug Ducey, the weak RINO Governor from Arizona, is being pushed by Old Crow Mitch McConnell to run for the U.S. Senate,” Trump said in a statement. “He will never have my endorsement or the support of MAGA Nation!”

Ducey often bristles at any question about whether he will seek the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., for his seat later this year.

But rumors abound nevertheless, in part thanks to high-ranking Republicans in Washington, D.C., including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who are urging establishment Republicans including Ducey to run.

But Ducey's standard reply includes touting his day job as Arizona’s governor and pointing to early 2021, when he said he was not running for the seat. Asked early last week what his future holds after his final year as governor, Ducey said he was focused on leading the state and running the Republican Governors Association, which seeks to elect Republican governors across the country.

“My plate is full,” Ducey told The Arizona Republic. “And I have found in the past, in my career, when I have focused on the work on my desk and done it with excellence, other opportunities present themselves.”

Asked if Ducey would go to Trump’s rally on Saturday, governor’s spokesman C.J. Karamargin said Ducey had “no plans” to attend.

— Stacey Barchenger

Friday afternoon: ReAwaken America Tour leads to police calls at Dream City Church

A conservative forum in Phoenix overlapping Donald Trump's return to Arizona opened Friday with calls to police.

Attendees at the ReAwaken America Tour at Dream City Church taunted teachers from the nearby BASIS Phoenix charter school over masks, school officials confirmed.

The tour, hosted by conservative podcaster Clay Clark and featuring Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, is scheduled to run through Saturday.

Election fraud and pandemic conspiracies dominate the itinerary, including a speech titled, "It’s the COVID-19 Protocols That Are Mass Murdering COVID-19 Patients."

Other topics include pinpointing where the world is on the Biblical timeline, communicating after the power grid is destroyed and "Jesus is King & Donald Trump is the REAL president of the United States."

Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, state Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, and Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward are among the scheduled speakers.

A pastor at Dream City Church confirmed about a dozen Phoenix police officers responded to the event Friday and the issue had been "taken care of."

He said ReAwaken America rented space from the church but is not affiliated with the church. He said several armed private security guards were hired by the event.

Dream City has hosted a number of conservative events, including a June movie premiere touting 2020 election conspiracies by key operatives in the Arizona Senate's largely discredited ballot review.

Trump held a rally at the church in 2020.

— Robert Anglen

Vendors near Ellsworth Road  and Hunt Highway on Jan. 14, 2022, gear up for Donald Trump's Jan. 15 rally nearly 20 miles away in Florence.
Vendors near Ellsworth Road and Hunt Highway on Jan. 14, 2022, gear up for Donald Trump's Jan. 15 rally nearly 20 miles away in Florence.

Early Friday afternoon: Vendors gear up for Trump rally

Days before Donald Trump's rally in Florence, merchandise vendors were staking out highway pullouts and setting up roadside stands more than 20 miles away.

Vendors dragged tents, tables and Trump gear from the backs of vehicles beginning Wednesday.

Flags and T-shirts fluttered around canopies in at least three spots within a mile of each other Friday on Hunt Highway just over the Maricopa County line in San Tan Valley.

Hunt Highway is one of the central routes for people driving from the East Valley to the Country Thunder venue, where Trump is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Passing cars gave the occasional honk as they zoomed past on Friday, earning waves from vendors. "It's going to be good weekend," one seller said.

— Robert Anglen

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Trump rally in Arizona: LIVE updates from Florence

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting