After stormy week in court, weather cancels Trump’s North Carolina rally


WILMINGTON, North Carolina — After a week confined by the judicial system to a criminal courtroom, former President Donald Trump on Saturday was supposed to get a dose of normalcy. Instead, the skies opened up over his campaign rally, and throngs of disappointed supporters were sent fleeing for their cars just before it started.

His rally here — surrounded by a parking lot full of bedazzled Trump memorabilia for sale, a sea of American, Gadsden, Confederate battle and “Trump Won” flags, uniformed members of the Proud Boys and red caps in every direction — was meant to be a welcome reprieve for Trump.

Just over a year after being indicted in New York City on falsification charges stemming from hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, the tarmac rally Saturday evening was scheduled to be Trump’s first big rally since the trial began on Monday.

“I’m devastated this could happen,” Trump said, his voice booming from the speaker system as he called into the rally a half hour before it was set to begin, lightning striking in the distance and thunder clapping in the sky as he warned the crowd to seek shelter.

“They’re saying the weather is really getting bad. Really, really getting bad.”

Not unlike the thunderstorm Saturday, the six-week criminal trial has also put a damper on Trump’s ability to campaign as he would like. And it remains uncertain whether the Manhattan trial and other pending legal cases against Trump will hurt him with voters come November — an election expected to be painfully close.

But despite the ongoing trial dominating Trump’s schedule, public remarks and social media posts, it was hardly top of mind for the scores of supporters who had braved the afternoon sun and nearly 90-degree heat index to come early for the rally.

“I’ve been busy with work,” said Michael Pietrzykowski, 30, of Jacksonville. “So I haven’t really been following the trial.”

Pat Anderson, who recently moved to the Wilmington area from Colorado, said she had not noticed news coverage this week of Trump’s trial.

“I don’t really pay attention to that,” Anderson said, before recalling she did see a story about “the guy who set himself on fire” outside the courthouse on Friday.

Malyah Handford, 23, and Joshua Cruz, 18, of Morehead City, walked into the rally explaining that they planned to vote for Trump because of the current high cost of living. “You can’t buy groceries with a paycheck,” Hanford said.

Their faces went blank when the topic turned to Trump’s ongoing criminal trial.

“What happened?” Cruz asked.

In interviews with a dozen of his supporters here Saturday under sunnier skies, only one brought up the trial unprompted. Cindy Cortese, 72, who flew from Washington state to attend her first Trump rally as a “bucket list” item, had taken in the trial news day after day this week, flipping back and forth between Fox News, CNN and MSNBC to see updates on a case she sees as “frivolous” and “very political.” And if Trump is convicted, “We’ll vote for him anyway,” said Cortese, a business owner.

“People are angry right now, and they’ll just be more angry,” Cortese said. “Because eventually, the truth will come out.”

Asked about any potential Trump convictions, his supporters in North Carolina offered a mix of remarks about how Trump will overcome anything thrown his way, ominous predictions of a public outcry, and, in the case of one Trump fan, a rare suggestion that he might reevaluate his decision.

“It’s hard to tell what would happen,” said 69-year-old Larry Gunter of Ocean Drive, South Carolina, fearing the worst if Trump were found guilty. “People ain’t just going to lie down and take it. You’ll probably see more protests. Whatever leads off of that, I couldn’t tell you.”

Confined to a Manhattan courtroom for eight hours a day, Trump sought to make the most of the swarm of news cameras ready to follow his every move this week — appearing briefly before gaggles of cameras at the courthouse and at Trump Tower, and making a stop at a Harlem bodega on Tuesday after the court adjourned for the evening.

But it wasn’t until Saturday that Trump broke free from the heavily Democratic city he once called home, traveling on his plane to Charlotte for a fundraiser, where he remained as storms loomed over the North Carolina coast.

North Carolina is one of several battleground states for Trump and Biden this fall, and Trump’s win by just over 1 percentage point here in 2020 was his narrowest margin of victory. His new handpicked chair of the Republican National Committee, Michael Whatley, was most recently chair of the North Carolina GOP and helped run Trump’s victory efforts here in 2016 and 2020. And Trump’s new RNC co-chair, his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, hails from the Wilmington area.

But the Trump campaign — which has effectively taken over and merged operations with the RNC — has been slow to launch field operations in swing states, even as Biden and the Democratic National Committee have announced office openings, staff hires and ad spending. In North Carolina, that includes 10 field offices across the state, in addition to their Raleigh headquarters.

Similarly to other battleground states, Trump’s campaign and the RNC have declined to provide many details on their operation in North Carolina. Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for Trump, in a statement to POLITICO said the campaign has both paid and volunteer field workers in each battleground state, including North Carolina, and “are expanding daily.”

“What we’ll do is we’ll make up for this very quickly at another time,” Trump told the crowd Saturday, suggesting he will reschedule the rally. “We’ll do it as quick as possible.”



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