Live updates: Trump lashes out at investigators, Mark Robinson teases 2024 run

·12 min read

Former President Donald Trump returned to North Carolina on Friday to hold a rally in support of Republican candidates he has endorsed in two crucial races on the ballot this fall.

Trump spoke at the Aero Center in Wilmington, following remarks by U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd as well as Bo Hines, who is running in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District. Other speakers included Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, U.S. Rep. David Rouzer and Michael Whatley, the chairman of the N.C. Republican Party.

The rally came about six weeks from Election Day, and Budd and Hines remain locked in competitive races against their opponents, Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley and House candidate Wiley Nickel. Both races could play a critical role in determining which party emerges from the midterms with control of Congress.

Follow this story for live updates from the rally.

Budd joins Trump on stage for a few moments

Updated 8:50 p.m.: Around 50 minutes into his remarks, Donald Trump called U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd onto the stage.

Budd said he and other North Carolinians were glad to welcome Trump back to the state, and said he was keen to help roll back the “Biden-Beasley” agenda.

Turning to Trump, Budd recalled that the former president endorsed him because he said Budd wouldn’t back down. Minutes earlier, Trump had joked about potentially having to rescind his endorsement of Budd in the GOP primary if his daughter-in-law Lara had entered the race.

Lara Trump, a Wilmington native, reportedly considered running for U.S. Senate last year before turning it down.

‘We may have to do it again,’ Trump says

Updated 8:35 p.m.: Former President Donald Trump repeated the false claim that he won the 2020 election.

Trump, who continues to insist that the 2020 election was illegitimate despite there being no proof to support his claims, said he ran for president twice and won twice.

After loud cheers from the crowd, Trump said advisers had told him that if he won the same amount of votes in 2020 as he won in 2016, or more, that he would be guaranteed a victory. In 2020, Trump received nearly 12 million more votes than he did in 2016, but his opponent, President Joe Biden, received 7 million more votes. Biden won the 2020 election by winning more than 270 electoral votes.

While talking about his first term in office, Trump alluded to running for a second term. “We may have to do it again,” Trump said, to an enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Trump recounts investigations he has been subject to

Updated 8:35 p.m.: For much of the beginning of his remarks, former President Donald Trump bemoaned investigations into his 2016 campaign, his business practices, and the two times he was impeached by the House of Representatives.

Trump claimed that his campaign had been spied upon by U.S. law enforcement when he ran for president in 2016, and asked what would have happened if officials in the Trump administration had spied on former President Barack Obama.

“Would they call for the death penalty or something worse than that?” Trump asked his supporters.

Trump repeatedly attacked New York Attorney General Letitia James, referring to her as “Peekaboo” James several times, adding that she was “disgusting” and “racist” for investigating his business. A lawsuit filed by her office this week accuses Trump and his children Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka, of misrepresenting the value of their assets by billions of dollars, according to the New York Times.

Trump walks out on stage

Updated at 7:55 p.m.: Former President Donald Trump walked out on the stage at his “Save America” rally nearly an hour after he was scheduled to speak.

After walking out to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” and tossing a couple of “Make America Great Again” hats to supporters seated in the bleachers, Trump said he was thrilled to be back in North Carolina, before immediately launching into remarks about the state of the economy, the cost of common grocery items, and crime, among other issues.

“If you want the decline and fall of America then you should vote for the crazy, radical, left Democrats,” Trump said.

Trump quickly turned to address some of the ongoing legal problems that have engulfed him and his business, including a civil lawsuit filed this week by New York Attorney General Letitia James against Trump and his adult children.

“No president has been through the kind of crap I’ve been through,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd.

Surprise appearances from Tim Moore and others

Updated at 7:05 p.m.: N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore made a surprise appearance at Friday’s rally.

Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, told the audience he was eager to see Republicans take back control of the U.S. House and Senate, while he worked with his colleagues to achieve a supermajority in the North Carolina legislature.

Moore criticized the Biden administration for not adequately addressing a surge in illegal immigration at the southern border, and claimed that Democratic lawmakers in North Carolina had signed onto a pledge to “defund the police,” referring to a controversy from September 2020.

Democrats at the time denied that the pledge they had signed had anything to do with cutting spending on law enforcement, and in this year’s U.S. Senate race, Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley has made it a point to express her opposition to the idea.

“Now imagine this, think for a minute, it’s 3 in the morning. Somebody is breaking into your house. What do they want to do, send a social worker over in a Prius or something?” Moore said to laughs from the crowd.

Sandy Smith, a Republican running in the 1st Congressional District of Eastern North Carolina, also made an unannounced appearance, speaking to the crowd for a few minutes before Russell Fry, a Republican running for Congress from South Carolina’s 7th district, also came on stage to address the crowd.

Photos: Former President Trump rallies supporters for candidates in NC

Nickel says Hines will only serve Trump’s interests

Updated at 7:05 p.m.: Wiley Nickel, the Democratic nominee running against Bo Hines in the 13th district, slammed Hines for spending his afternoon at the Wilmington rally.

In a video posted to Twitter, Nickel said he had been knocking on doors and talking to voters in the district while Hines was appearing at Trump’s rally. Nickel said Hines had made it clear he would only stand for the former president’s interests, and no one else’s.

Budd thanks Trump, vows to fund border patrol and wall

Updated at 6:35 p.m.: Ted Budd, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, took to the stage approximately an hour and a half before Donald Trump was scheduled to speak.

Budd immediately criticized President Joe Biden, saying that under the Democrat’s leadership, the prices of “everyday necessities” like gas and groceries had gone up.

After thanking his family and other supporters, Budd thanked Trump “for everything he’s done for this country.”

“You know, he made America great, and who knows, folks, he might just do it again,” Budd said to loud cheers from the crowd.

Budd said Biden wanted to raise taxes and hire 87,000 additional IRS agents — a reference to $80 billion in funding the tax collection agency will receive to hire tens of thousands of workers in the coming years to make up for nearly 50,000 workers expected to be lost to retirement over the next five years, according to Bloomberg News.

The mention of thousands of new IRS workers conducting tax audits prompted calls of “Lock him up!” from the crowd.

Instead of funding the IRS, Budd vowed to fund U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the wall on the southern border, a flagship proposal of the Trump administration which was left far from completed when the former president left office.

U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd appears at a rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Wilmington International Airport Friday, Sept. 23, 2023.
U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd appears at a rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Wilmington International Airport Friday, Sept. 23, 2023.

Robinson blasts Biden and Cooper, teases 2024 run

Updated at 6:35 p.m.: Taking the stage to loud cheers from the crowd, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson quickly took aim at the Biden administration’s handling of several issues including the economy and inflation, as well as public health and the national effort to vaccinate as many people as possible.

“We’ve got these overbearing mandates that have been handed down to us because of the COVID crisis,” Robinson said. “Who would’ve ever thought that mandates would have been a part of the American vocabulary? We stopped doing mandates back in 1775, I thought.”

Robinson said the country was in a crisis due to President Joe Biden’s “poor leadership,” which he contrasted with former President Donald Trump’s time in office, when “our enemies (were) cowering in the basement” and the economy was “ramped up like it’s never been before.”

Robinson also criticized Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, telling the crowd that it was critical they elect a Republican supermajority in the state legislature to bypass the governor’s vetoes and make him “ineffective.”

Before making way for Ted Budd, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, Robinson teased the crowd, as he has often done in the past, about a potential gubernatorial run of his own.

“In 2024, we need somebody to step up and fill that governor’s mansion up,” Robinson said while holding up a towel bearing his name, which he used to wipe his forehead while supporters in the crowd cheered boisterously. “I don’t know who it’s going to be, but whoever it is, they need to be a strong patriot that loves this state and loves this nation.”

Flags blow in a stiff wind prior to a GOP rally featuring former President Donald Trump, at Wilmington International Airport Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.
Flags blow in a stiff wind prior to a GOP rally featuring former President Donald Trump, at Wilmington International Airport Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.

Hines says GOP needs more ‘fighters’ in Congress

Updated at 5:10 p.m.: U.S. House candidate Bo Hines, running in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, walked out to loud cheers and promptly told the crowd why he was running for Congress.

“We couldn’t sit back idly by any longer, and watch radical Marxist leftists attempt to destroy this country,” Hines said.

The 27-year-old, who won the GOP nomination in the 13th district with help from an endorsement by former President Donald Trump, said that too many politicians had failed to deliver on their campaign pledges, unlike Trump, who he said may have been the first president to deliver on “every single one of his promises.”

Hines said current members of Congress had put too much emphasis on trying to “compromise.” Instead, he said, he would “go on offense” on a number of issues, including protecting Second Amendment rights and the rights of parents to have a say in what materials their children are taught, and at what age.

District 13 U.S. Rep. candidate Bo Hines speaks during a rally featuring former president Donald Trump at Wilmington International Airport Friday, Sept. 23, 2023.
District 13 U.S. Rep. candidate Bo Hines speaks during a rally featuring former president Donald Trump at Wilmington International Airport Friday, Sept. 23, 2023.

NC GOP chairman lays out stakes in upcoming election

Updated at 4:40 p.m.: Running about 20 minutes late, the rally began with introductory remarks from N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley.

Walking out to loud applause, Whatley said that voters were frustrated with the current state of the economy, mentioning inflation that reached a nearly 40-year high earlier this summer.

“Under President Trump, we had an economy that was on the rebound,” Whatley said. “Less than two years later, under President Biden, look where we we are today.”

Whatley told supporters in the crowd that the stakes of the upcoming election could not be higher, saying that control of the U.S. Senate, which is currently divided equally by both parties but controlled by Democrats thanks to a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, could be decided by the race between Ted Budd and Cheri Beasley in North Carolina.

“When you think about this election, you need to think about how elections have consequences. We need to put guardrails around this White House.”

People walk past a cardboard cut-out of former president Donald Trump prior to a rally in Wilmington, N.C. on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.
People walk past a cardboard cut-out of former president Donald Trump prior to a rally in Wilmington, N.C. on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.

Crowds continue to gather before program starts

Updated at 4:15 p.m.: With the first speakers of Friday’s rally about to take to the stage, supporters of the former president continue to assemble at the Aero Center. At least 1,000 people appeared to have gathered on the bleachers behind and surrounding the stage, and other seating areas.

In between popular songs by Elvis Presley and other artists, political ads about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd played on giant screens flanking the stage.

Outside the entrance, vendors were selling a variety of Trump-branded merchandise, including flags, signs, shirts and hats.

Melissa Harrell, 44, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, is attending her first Trump rally, along with her daughter Sierra Gerganous, and her daughter’s husband, Justin Gerganous.

Harrell said she came out because of her concerns about the economy and illegal immigration at the southern border. She also said she believed the 2020 election was stolen. Federal and local election officials have repeatedly stated that there’s no proof to support Trump’s assertions about the 2020 election, but his claims have been accepted by many of his supporters.

Melissa Harrell, 44, of Jacksonville, N.C. said she was attending her first Trump rally, along with her daughter and son-in-law. Harrell said she was concerned about the economy and immigration, as well as the 2020 election.
Melissa Harrell, 44, of Jacksonville, N.C. said she was attending her first Trump rally, along with her daughter and son-in-law. Harrell said she was concerned about the economy and immigration, as well as the 2020 election.

Democrats blast Budd and Hines for appearing with Trump

Updated at 3:20 p.m.: Ahead of the rally, North Carolina Democrats blasted U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd and House candidate Bo Hines for their ties to Trump, particularly in light of the former president’s false insistence that he won the 2020 election.

At a press conference at Wilmington’s 1898 Memorial Park, Charles Graham, a Democratic member of the N.C. House of Representatives who is running for Congress from North Carolina’s 7th district, said Trump and other speakers would “spew lies and try to deny democracy.”

“We must stand up against authoritarianism, a cult-like movement in this country that will undermine democracy,” Graham said. “Today, as I speak, we’re regaining our credibility in the world, our standing in the world. Folks, we can’t go backwards. We can’t take steps backwards, and let this MAGA movement take us backwards.”

Charles Graham, a Democratic state representative running for Congress from North Carolina’s 7th district, speaks during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 in Wilmington.
Charles Graham, a Democratic state representative running for Congress from North Carolina’s 7th district, speaks during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 in Wilmington.

National Democrats also weighed in. Monica Robinson, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money to elect Democrats to the House, said Hines had “pledged to be a MAGA warrior in Congress.”

“When Bo Hines steps on that stage with Donald Trump tonight, he’ll be reminding North Carolina voters that he takes his marching orders from the most extreme wing of his party – not from North Carolinians,” Robinson said in a statement.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.