Trump steps onto campaign trail for first time since his conviction

Jun 6, 2024, 9:26 PM

Former President Donald Trump, seen here on May 31, will speak at a town hall on June 6 in Phoenix,...

Former President Donald Trump, seen here on May 31, will speak at a town hall on June 6 in Phoenix, his first campaign appearance since his conviction. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — During his decades in the public eye, Donald Trump has stood before crowds as a builder of skyscrapers and casinos, a best-selling author, a reality television host, a husband and father, a New Yorker and Floridian, and a current and former president of the United States.

On Thursday, he addressed an audience for the first time with his newest moniker: Felon.

Trump spoke at a town hall in Phoenix, marking his first campaign appearance since a Manhattan jury last week convicted the presumptive Republican nominee on 34 counts related to a scheme to pay off a porn star ahead of the 2016 election — in a trial that he falsely referred to as “rigged” on Thursday.

Trump will next head to California for a fundraising swing before a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday, his first since the verdict.

The flurry of events signals a new phase of the campaign for Trump with his New York case now largely behind him. No longer tethered to a Manhattan courtroom during the week, Trump is expected to ramp up his activity as he pivots from the trial to the trail.

But as he steps back onto the campaign trail as a convicted felon, the urgency for Trump has crystalized. Now staring down a sentence in the hush money case, his best ticket to avoid more serious charges in the three other indictments he faces is convincing Americans to put him in office again.

Trump’s allies have responded to the unprecedented moment with escalating calls for retribution – both in the immediate aftermath of his conviction and if he recaptures the White House. Trump himself has also threatened his political opponents, continuing the retaliatory rhetoric that has permeated from his campaign since the onset.

“It’s a terrible precedent for our country,” Trump said during an interview with Newsmax that aired Tuesday. “Does that mean the next president does it to them? That’s really the question.”

Trump had already galvanized his supporters around his legal troubles long before last week’s verdict. His rallies had become a space for Trump to riff on his multiple indictments, test the boundaries of gag orders, attack the justice system and cast himself as a victim in a conspiratorial plot to keep him from the White House.

His campaign believes that messaging has braced the Republican base for this outcome – and it isn’t expected to stop. His supporters have responded with an unprecedented wave of donations that flooded the Trump campaign’s coffers with $53 million online in the 24 hours after his conviction, his advisers said, and the fundraising appeals centered on his convictions have continued.

In text messages Saturday to supporters, Trump’s campaign sent a link to donate and wrote, “I’m still standing. 34 rigged felony convictions can’t keep me down.”

Still, Trump can’t soon move out from under the lasting cloud of his felonies nor the uncertainty it has cast over his third White House bid. Chief among the unknowns is how the broader electorate will respond to the first criminal conviction of a former US president.

The event in Arizona — from which 11 people were transported to hospitals after reports of heat exhaustion, according to the Phoenix Fire Department — was hosted by the conservative group Turning Point Action.

Trump’s arrival put him in a state where undecided voters could determine his fate and comes days after President Joe Biden’s latest action to secure the border – an issue the former president has used to hammer the Democrat with each passing surge of migrant crossings. Biden on Tuesday announced an executive action giving him authority to effectively shut down the US-Mexico border to asylum seekers entering illegally when a daily threshold of crossings is exceeded.

Biden and his allies have framed his new policy as moving in the face of Republican inaction, noting that Trump helped kill a bipartisan Senate deal to unleash new resources toward securing the border.

“The American people demand solutions to fix our broken immigration system, but at every step of the way, Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans have made clear they only want chaos and partisan politics as usual,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said in a statement Tuesday.

Trump used the opportunity in Arizona to deliver an extended response to Biden’s asylum action, vowing to rescind it on his first day in office if he wins in November. “Joe Biden wants an invasion. I want a deportation,” Trump said, baselessly calling Biden’s policy “pro-invasion” and “pro-child trafficking.”

Much of his prepared remarks focused on immigration, although the event was clearly intended to rally Trump’s base around his recent conviction as well.

“President Trump has proven time and again that he is an absolute force of nature that the left fears more than any other,” Turning Point Action founder and Trump ally Charlie Kirk said in a statement announcing the town hall. “They know Joe Biden can’t beat him in a fair fight, so they’ve disgracefully weaponized the justice system.”

The Trump campaign, though, was not concerned Trump will muddy the message on immigration by focusing on his legal battles.

Trump “can walk and chew gum,” a source with knowledge of his remarks told CNN prior to the rally.

This story has been updated with Trump’s remarks.

CNN’s Kaanita Iyer contributed to this report.

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Trump steps onto campaign trail for first time since his conviction