Trump, in his first post-trial rally, demands that appeals courts reverse his felony conviction

PHOENIX — PHOENIX (AP) — Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail Thursday with a trip to Arizona, his first appearance in a battleground state since he was convicted in a hush money scandal, repeating his critiques of the case against him as politically motivated and calling for his conviction to be overturned on appeal.

“Those appellate courts have to step up and straighten things out or we’re not going to have a country anymore,” Trump said at a Phoenix town hall organized by Turning Point, a conservative youth organization that has seen its influence rise alongside Trump’s takeover of the GOP.

Trump is expected to appeal last month’s conviction on all 34 charges in his New York hush money trial, in which he became the first former American president to be convicted of felony crimes. He responded defiantly to the verdict against him a day after a New York jury found him guilty last week of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through a hush money payment to a porn actor but had not spoken directly to the swing-state voters who will decide the November election until Thursday, when he used a profanity to decry the “fake” and politically motivated case against him.

The crowd of thousands inside the mega church, where bass for the pre-show and introductory music was turned up so high that it shook seats and media camera shots, chanted the same profanity in response.

The Phoenix Police Department said 11 people at the event were transported to hospitals, treated and released for heat exhaustion. Officials said an excessive heat warning was in effect for the area during Trump’s town hall, where many of Trump’s supporters were unable to get inside before it reached capacity, and Phoenix set a new record high of 112 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-afternoon.

Trump’s conviction infuriated his supporters, who pumped tens of millions of dollars into his campaign in the immediate aftermath. Trump blames his conviction on President Joe Biden, though the case was brought by the locally elected district attorney in New York, and many of his allies are calling for revenge.

“What are they going to campaign on?” Juan Arredondo of Peoria, Arizona said of the Democrats as he waited to get inside Trump’s rally. “They can’t campaign on the border. They can’t campaign on the economy.”

Trump focused much of his hourlong speech and subsequent Q&A on the U.S.-Mexico border, blaming a litany of problems — from inflation to the long-term health of Social Security — on illegal immigration, characterizing Biden’s policies “a deliberate demolition of our sovereignty and our borders.”

The influx of foreign-born adults vastly has raised the supply of available workers after a U.S. labor shortage had left many companies unable to fill jobs. The availability of immigrant workers eased the pressure on companies to sharply raise wages, and then pass on their higher labor costs to their customers via higher prices that feed inflation, which remains elevated in the U.S. but has plummeted from its levels of two years ago.

Immigrants who work also pay Social Security and other payroll taxes.

Trump found a friendly audience at Turning Point. Led by Charlie Kirk, the group has harnessed the energy of young people drawn to Trump’s Make America Great Again movement by cultivating conservative influencers and hosting glitzy events. And it’s made Kirk and his allies wealthy.

“The election is now bigger than Donald Trump,” Kirk said, casting the stakes in November as a “class struggle between the ruling class and you.”

Nowhere is Turning Point’s influence greater than in Arizona, the group’s adopted home state where its loyalists have taken on prominent roles in the state GOP but have struggled to win general elections. Turning Point’s slate of conservative candidates lost in the 2022 midterms, including Kari Lake, who lost the race for governor and is now running for U.S. Senate.

The group is looking to expand its influence this year to other battleground states and got a boost when Trump ousted former Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel in February. She was replaced by Trump’s hand-picked successor, his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who has spoken positively about working with Turning Point.

Biden won Arizona in 2020 by about 10,000 votes. It was, along with Georgia, one of two states decided by less than half a percentage point and is expected to be close again this year.

Ahead of Trump’s visit, Biden’s allies in Arizona blamed the former president for overturning the national constitutional right to an abortion and defeating a bipartisan border security bill.

Arizona Republicans have enthusiastically embraced Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. State lawmakers commissioned an unprecedented partisan recount that confirmed his loss. Cochise County officials in southern Arizona face criminal charges for refusing to certify the 2022 midterm election results.

Hours before Trump was scheduled to speak, Jake Hoffman, a Republican state senator who is also a top Turning Point consultant, pleaded not guilty for his role in an alleged plot to overturn Trump’s loss in Arizona. Hoffman is accused of being a fake elector who signed a document falsely claiming to represent Arizona in the Electoral College.

Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is scheduled for arraignment in the same case on Friday.

Despite the state’s importance on the presidential map, Trump has not campaigned in Arizona since 2022, when he held a rally to support his slate of midterm candidates, all of whom ended up losing.

Trump’s trip west includes several private fundraisers and a rally on Sunday in Nevada, another battleground state he lost narrowly in 2020.

Kinnard reported from Chapin, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud and Anita Snow in Phoenix contributed.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.


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