YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Donald and Linda Marrie figured they’d make their 39th wedding anniversary one they’d always remember.
They drove more than an hour, waited in interminable lines and ran the security gauntlet all to see former President Donald Trump in person for the first time in their lives.
They shared the story of their anniversary pilgrimage with those in line with them Saturday, ahead of Mr. Trump’s rally in Youngstown, Ohio, saying the former president has the cure to what ails the country.
“We have to be Americans, and we have to pull together and Trump, I think he represents honesty, I think he represents integrity, and if we don’t pull together our nation will never be the same for our children and our grandchildren,” said Mrs. Marrie, who works with disabled children.
“I gotta tell you, growing up in this awesome nation was spectacular and I don’t want to lose that for our children and grandchildren,” she said.
Six years after Mr. Trump told the Republican National Convention — and an anxious world waiting to see what kind of president he might be — that he alone could fix things, his supporters remain committed to that fundamental cause.
And that’s particularly true in Eastern Ohio, perhaps the epitome of Trump country — a rust belt region struggling to cement an identity in a fast-changing world.
Twenty years ago the region was reliably Democratic, albeit with a conservative working-class tinge, but it has swung overwhelmingly toward the GOP along with the rest of the state. Ohio backed President Obama in two elections but went for Mr. Trump by a strong 8-point margin in 2016 and 2020.
Mr. Trump was the first Republican since 1972 to win Mahoning County, home to Youngstown, and if anything, his support here has hardened in the two years since the last election amid deepening distrust in national institutions, cultural changes, rising crime and rampant inflation.
The crowd here celebrated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to fly illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard and blasted Mr. Biden’s speech earlier this month declaring them — and Mr. Trump — an existential threat to democracy.
“In my opinion, we’re the only people trying to save democracy,” said Don Errera, who drove over an hour with his wife Sue from Seneca, Pennsylvania.
Kim St. Clair, who made a five-plus hour trip from the Indianapolis suburbs, rolled her eyes when asked about Mr. Biden’s comments.
“We are a threat to corrupt government,” said the 62-year-old, who recently retired from a pharmaceutical company after being pressured to get a coronavirus vaccine.
Mr. Trump, at his first rally since Mr. Biden’s speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, also took aim at the sitting president, warning that the “thugs and tyrants” in the federal government have “no idea of the sleeping giant that they have awoken.”
Mr. Errera, a retired manager of a state unemployment office, offered a hint of that sleeping giant.
“The people that vote for Trump, I don’t care if they’re Republican or Democrat or whatever, they’re gonna vote for whoever is running because Joe Biden is ruining our country,” he said.
Mr. Trump and his supporters embrace the messianic comparisons.
Indeed, his rallies are dubbed the “Save America” tour, and Saturday’s installment ended with much of the crowd lifting their hands to Heaven, Christian revival-style.
“If he’s fortunate enough to get [back] in [The White House], maybe, maybe, that’ll be an awakening for the country,” said Mr. Marrie, a regional manager for a distributor of marine power transmission products.
Mr. Trump’s loyal supporters say there is no doubt they will rally behind him if he runs for president in 2024. They also take solace in the idea that if doesn’t run another strong candidate will emerge from the Trump mold.
Though some here took a wait-and-see approach to what prosecutors do with whatever the FBI found during its raid on the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence, the dominant sense in the line for the rally was Democrats are desperately seeking ways to derail Mr. Trump’s potential return in 2024
Mr. Trump’s backers also are irate that Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden have escaped legal trouble, saying that the lack of indictments for, respectively, their handling of classified material and dealings with foreign governments prove that federal bureaucrats are just out to get Mr. Trump.
The raid isn’t Mr. Trump’s only legal trouble.
A House select committee has painted a damning picture of the role he and his stolen-election claims played in inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The Justice Department is probing Mr. Trump along similar lines, too.
Politically, the former president is under fire from some GOP leaders who say the untested candidates whom Mr. Trump helped power through Republican primaries threaten to torpedo the party’s chances of winning control of the Senate in November.
One of those, J.D. Vance, is the GOP nominee in Ohio, where Sen. Rob Portman is retiring and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan is mounting a strong challenge to flip the seat. Another is Mehmet Oz, just over the border in Pennsylvania, who is struggling in his bid to keep a GOP-held Senate seat.
Voters were lukewarm on the candidates themselves, but eager to deliver for Mr. Trump.
“I mean, he did endorse some people that turned out to be crap like Mitt Romney and some others,” said Kerri Goldinger, who sported a “Trump 24” ruby red cowboy hat with fur trim. “But by and large, the people that he’s endorsed have been really good candidates.”
Ms. Goldinger, a service coordinator for adults with mental-health issues, said she isn’t sure that Mr. Oz will not be a RINO, or Republican in Name Only, but said the president has earned leeway, in no small part because of how he won the party over in 2016.
“I really wasn’t sure about Trump either because it was like ’Is he just saying what we want to hear?’ There was no history there and he just hit it out of the ballpark. Every single thing he did was just so awesome,” she said.
One Republican who got no love Saturday was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who is the most powerful member of the GOP in Washington right now.
The crowd booed lustily when Mr. Trump mentioned his name, calling him a “disgrace.”
Supporters roared approval, however, for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and people jumped at the chance to snap a selfie with My Pillow CEO Michael Lindell, an ardent promoter of Mr. Trump’s stolen-election claims.
Mr. Lindell’s cellphone was recently seized as part of a federal investigation into an alleged breach of voting machines in Colorado.
In a recent interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Mr. Trump said if he is indicted, there would be “big problems, big problems.”
Ms. Marrie, on her anniversary, agreed it could be bad.
“I’m hoping to God there’s not a civil war,” she said. “I’m hoping but I gotta tell you, a lot of people would be mad.”
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