Trump’s Georgia stop will be his first public appearance since federal indictment

US President Donald Trump holds up his fist as he leaves the stage at the end of a rally to support Republican Senate candidates at Valdosta Regional Airport in Valdosta, Georgia on December 5, 2020.   (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

US President Donald Trump holds up his fist as he leaves the stage at the end of a rally to support Republican Senate candidates at Valdosta Regional Airport in Valdosta, Georgia on December 5, 2020. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

COLUMBUS — Donald Trump is scheduled to make his first public appearance since his federal indictment on Saturday with a stop at the Georgia GOP convention, where he’s expected to frame himself as a victim of political persecution as he delivers a lashing rebuke of the criminal charges.

The former president will likely get a hero’s welcome when he speaks Saturday afternoon to a rapturous crowd of more than 1,000 conservative delegates to the convention, some of whom share his view that the federal and state criminal probes are vindictive “witch hunts.”

The stop comes one day after prosecutors unsealed a 49-page indictment that charged Trump with willfully retaining national defense secrets at his Florida estate and then obstructing the government’s effort to retrieve them. It’s the first time in U.S. history an ex-president faces federal charges.

As he has with other criminal inquiries in Atlanta, New York and Washington, Trump has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong and accused federal and state law enforcement officials of abusing their powers to derail his comeback bid.

He remains the Republican frontrunner despite his legal peril, and early polls indicate he’s still the GOP favorite in Georgia. Even so, he will nonetheless encounter a vastly different political landscape in Georgia than he did during his last visit to the state.

When Trump held a campaign rally in Georgia in March 2022, he promised thousands of loyalists who journeyed to a muddy racetrack that his plan to overhaul state politics in his image was only just beginning.

Credit: Arvin Temkar

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Credit: Arvin Temkar

He still harbored hope of ousting Gov. Brian Kemp from office and replacing him with former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who stressed his loyalty to Trump and falsely claimed the 2020 election was “absolutely stolen.”

Trump still sought political payback against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for refusing his demand to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat and to humiliate two others — Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King — for their loyalty to Kemp.

He still dreamed of shepherding former football star Herschel Walker win a U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock. And the threat of criminal charges in Georgia for his effort to reverse his 2020 defeat still seemed far off.

Now that plan is in tatters. Kemp and other GOP incumbents demolished their Trump-backed challengers. Walker’s campaign, beset by controversies and unforced errors, collapsed in a runoff.

And Fulton County prosecutors could unveil criminal charges as early as August, on top of the charges he faces in New York and the federal indictment that was unsealed this week.

Trump is certain to get a warm embrace from the delegates of the state GOP convention, whose members have moved further toward his camp over the last eight years. And he holds a double-digit lead in early polls of the Republican race for president in Georgia.

But he won’t find the same atmosphere that he did in 2020, when state leaders eagerly tried to curry his favor, or even in 2022, when Kemp and other Republicans on his bad side feared alienating his supporters ahead of the midterms by punching back.

Senior Republicans are openly courting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose most recent Georgia stop featured visits to prominent elected officials. Already, U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick became the state’s first prominent Republican to formally back a Trump rival when he endorsed DeSantis.

“We need a warrior who will do whatever it takes to champion conservative values and safeguard the next generation,” said McCormick, who represents a safely conservative district north of Atlanta.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, too, has developed key support in Georgia despite her middling poll numbers, landing some of the state’s most prominent donors and the backing of state Rep. Deborah Silcox, who will lead one of her state-based initiatives.

220909—Norcross-Nikki Haley speaks to journalists during campaign stop for Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Norcross on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

At a closed-door fundraiser on Monday in Atlanta, Haley reminded supporters that at this stage in the 2016 race, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was polling in the single digits in Iowa. He wound up carrying that state’s caucus.

And, in a significant strategic shift, Kemp has ended his hands-off approach to the former president. After long avoiding openly criticizing Trump, the governor delivered his first direct attack against the former president a few days before the convention.

He and his allies have deeper concerns that Trump’s “sour grapes” will doom the party’s chances in Georgia, which Republicans consider a must-win state.

A poll his political network released this week points to his challenges in Georgia. It showed that a generic Republican had a roughly 10-point edge over President Joe Biden in Georgia, but Trump was neck-and-neck with the Democratic incumbent.

Trump is expected to deliver a full-throated defense of his conduct — and take aim at Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. He told Insider Advantage he would also use the address to focus on the economic and foreign policies he staked out during his single term in office.

“We had a great term and had the most successful economy of the history of our country,” he told the outlet. “And people want to get back to it.”