At Trump’s Post-Debate Rally, Unease Among the Faithful

The day after President Biden fell in Thursday’s prime-time debate, Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia stood alongside former President Donald J. Trump at a Chesapeake farm, gushing.

“This is the best Trump rally ever!”

In the past, when it suited him, Mr. Youngkin has kept his distance from Mr. Trump and his erratic behavior.

Not now. Not with all these victories coming.

“Hello Virginia,” Mr. Trump cooed as he took the stage in front of thousands of his supporters in what Republicans increasingly view as a winnable state. “Has anyone watched a thing called the debate?” » He yelled, “That was a big deal. » A.”

On the surface, the Chesapeake rally was a quick victory lap after the debate and before the 2024 race kicked into high gear.

“The Democrats are in big trouble, so I feel pretty good today,” said Jason Alter, 35, a Miami dentist.

But behind the jubilation, there was a slight panic. It was the kind of panic you sometimes feel when everything in life seems to be going…a little too well.

Throughout Mr. Trump’s comeback campaign, his supporters have told anyone who would listen that Mr. Biden is nothing more than a tool of a shadowy power that will push him, at the right time, to insert a more formidable candidate. Now, they say, that is precisely the plot that is playing out before the nation’s eyes.

“We all suspected it,” said Phil Capron, 40, a Virginia Beach resident and real estate investor. “And now that’s the official narrative that all major media outlets are following.”

Suspicions sank Friday. “They did this to get him out,” said Tara Silvasy, 55, a FEMA employee.

But who are these “they”? “The party,” she said simply.

Never one to miss a spidery conspiracy theory, Mr. Trump seemed as panicked as any of his supporters about what might be happening.

“A lot of people are saying that after last night’s performance, Joe Biden is leaving the race,” he said from the stage, followed by scattered and apparently confused applause. “The fact is, I don’t really believe him,” he continued, “because he’s performing better in the polls than any of the Democrats they’re talking about. Did you see that, Glenn?

Mr. Trump spent the next few minutes explaining to his supporters why the alternatives to Mr. Biden are actually weaker. He said that Gov. Gavin Newsom “can’t run California,” and the crowd booed. He mentioned Vice President Kamala Harris, and the crowd booed louder. “That might have been Joe Biden’s best move, to nominate his vice president, because nobody wants that. I would be very happy about that.”

Then he added: “Did they question Michelle Obama? She votes very poorly. She probes terribly. The crowd remained strangely still. No one seemed to believe that one – least of all Mr. Trump, even as the words came out of his own mouth. “It’s hard to believe,” he said, pausing. “But crooked Joe Biden polls better than these people.”

All of this was somewhat compromised by the fact that, during another part of his same speech, Mr. Trump told them that pollsters should never be trusted.

“Michelle Obama would be an interesting choice,” mused Mr. Capron, wearing an “Alex Jones Was Right” T-shirt. “I actually think she would benefit from a lot of support.” A lot of people really liked the Obama years.”

Ms. Silvasy said: “Unfortunately, I think it will be Gavin Newsom.”

Mr. Alter, the Miami dentist, feared the same thing. “Yes, that would make me very nervous.” I hope Joe is too stubborn and stays on the ticket and thinks he can win.

What brought Mr. Trump’s loudest applause Friday had nothing to do with the debate or Mr. Biden’s slip-up; it was his mention of that day’s Supreme Court decision, which ruled that prosecutors overstepped in how they charged some members of the pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol in January. January 6, 2021. “These people were treated so badly,” Mr. Trump said. “We must release them immediately, the J6 hostages.”

The next morning, Mr. Trump tried to do some damage control — for his opponent. He posted a story Saturday on Truth Social about Mr. Biden, saying that “his speech on Friday was better and he seems to be coming out of his trance.”

But in Chesapeake, he finally talked with his loyalists about the coming battle. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he finally admitted. “I have absolutely no idea.”

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