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Trump roasts Republican incumbents during frigid rally in Florence

Donald Trump hosts a rally at the Florence Regional Airport where he showed support for two Republican primary challengers as he tries to unseat South Carolina's coastal congressional incumbents. March 12, 2022
Meg Kinnard/AP
Donald Trump hosts a rally at the Florence Regional Airport where he showed support for Republican primary challengers as he tries to unseat two incumbents serving South Carolina's coastal congressional districts. The former president believes they betrayed him. March 12, 2022

If revenge is a dish best served cold, Donald Trump chose the perfect weekend to seek it in the Palmetto state.

It was frigid, wet and windy Saturday as hundreds bundled up for an outdoor rally at the Florence Regional Airport. The former president wore a ball cap and sports coat as he roasted fellow Republicans, he believes betrayed him.

Trump supporters wait in cold, wet, windy weather for rally in Florence to begin. March 12, 2022
Victoria Hansen
South Carolina Public Radio
Trump supporters wait in cold, wet, windy weather for rally at the Florence Regional Airport to begin. March 12, 2022

“Right here in the 7th Congressional District Tom Rice is a disaster,” Trump said. “He’s respected by no one.”

The sin of the incumbent congressman who says he voted with Trump more than 90 percent of the time? Rice voted to impeach Trump for not stopping the January 6th Capitol riot.

“In the 1st Congressional District, you have another horrendous RINO,” Trump continued to a chorus of boos. “She’s a terrible person and she has no idea what she’s doing.”

Incumbent Nancy Mace once worked for Trump and had his endorsement in the 2020 race. But she crossed her former boss when she publicly criticized him, saying he put lives at risk during the Capitol riot. She also voted to certify the election for Joe Biden.

“Thankfully this June you have the chance to dump the grandstand losers and replace them with two rock solid America first champions,” Trump said before bringing Russell Fry and Katie Arrington on stage with him.

The Challengers

Fry is a state representative who supports Trump’s false claims the 2020 presidential election was rigged. He’s one of several primary challengers taking on Rice based on the belief the congressman betrayed Trump.

“And on June 14th in the 7th Congressional District, we are going to vote to impeach Tom Rice at the ballot box,” Fry said to a round of applause.

Katie Arrington, meantime, was backed by Trump when she beat incumbent Congressman Mark Sanford in the 2018 Republican primary. But she lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham in the general election, flipping the seat. Still, she is loyal to Trump and drew a huge applause when she spoke with the former president by her side.

“Sir the reason they’re screaming your name is because you’re the best damn president this country has ever had period.”

The Incumbents respond

Both Rice and Mace, who represent the state’s coastal districts, released statements following the rally.

“Trump is here because, like no one else I've ever met, he is consumed by spite,” Rice said. He called Fry, “A yes man candidate who has and will bow to anything Trump says.”

A statement quoting Mace’s campaign manager didn’t mention Trump. But it did point to Arrington as, “the only Republican to lose this district in 40 years.”

The attacks on Rice and Mace are not unique to South Carolina. Trump has been targeting fellow Republicans in primaries nationwide. Dr. Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, calls it highly unusual for a former president.

“So much of it’s just personal attacks against people who didn’t back him,” Knotts said. “It’s not they weren’t conservative enough or they wanted too much spending. It’s all sort of personal.”

Dr. Knotts says it could backfire for Republicans, especially in the 1st Congressional District. There Arrington’s claims Trump was the nation’s best president may not go over well.

“That’s going to turn off some suburban voters, some female voters. It’s definitely a risky strategy,” he said.

Trump took aim, not only at the Republican incumbents, but critical race theory, climate change and federal mandates. And he continued his false claims about 2020 presidential election.

"And now I may have to run again."
Former president Donald Trump

“So, I ran twice. I won twice and I did much better the second time getting 12 million more votes,” Trump said.

“And now, I may have to run again.”

It was hardly a commitment. But it did give hundreds enduring the cold what many say they wanted, hope Trump could be president again.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.