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Trump rails against ‘migrant crime’ and ‘rigged’ 2020 election at Wisconsin rally

On Wisconsin’s presidential primary election day, Donald Trump made his first campaign stop in the state, where he railed against so-called “migrant crime” and doubled down on false election claims.

“We won in 2016 – we did much better in 2020, hate to say it, we did a hell of a lot better,” the former president told the roaring crowd, nodding to the disproven and unfounded “rigging” numerous times during his speech.

Related: Biden and Trump sweep four primaries including battleground state Wisconsin

“We will throw out the sick political class that hates us,” he continued later. “We will route the fake news media, we will drain the swamp and we will liberate our country from these tyrants and villains once and for all.”

Hours earlier, the rainy weather in Green Bay had turned sludgy, icy and painful as gusts of wind blew the precipitation sideways. It did not stop thousands of Trump supporters from thronging there for hours, forming a parade that snaked up and away from the venue and over the bridge crossing the Fox River two blocks away.

Trump is, according to most polling, fighting for his life in Wisconsin, a state he lost to Joe Biden four years ago. But one would never know that in the KI Convention Center, where his red and white and sequined supporters gathered to him speak for the first time this campaign season.

“I personally like that he’s unashamed,” said Ethan Nielsen, an 18-year-old who attended the rally with his father as he waited in line. “He believes what he believes and he doesn’t go back on what he says.”

Committed attendees, who had waited for hours in hypothermic weather, packed into rows of seats. The rest of the crowd milled around patiently, the lull punctuated a few times by MyPillow founder and elections conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, who engaged the audience from his perch at the heart of the television news gaggle.

Before Trump’s speech, senator Ron Johnson, a loyal ally of Trump and a vocal promoter of the elections and vaccine misinformation that animates his base, gave brief but impassioned remarks. It was up to Wisconsin, he said, to help deliver Trump a big red wave in November.

To do that, Republicans would need to embrace absentee voting.

“Today is the perfect example why,” said Johnson, to muted applause. “We can’t afford to have a miserable election day in November and not have our vote already banked – so embrace early voting, we have to do that.”

His plea reflects a contradiction within the Republican party, whose star has spent the last four years inveighing against absentee voting and falsely claiming the method facilitated widespread fraud during the 2020 election. Trump’s claims about voter fraud have even propelled a movement at the fringes of the GOP to do away with ballot tabulators entirely and revert to hand-counting – an unreliable method that would be nearly impossible to carry out in large municipalities.

In Wisconsin, where a small local campaign to do away with voting machines has taken hold, absentee ballots are at the center of election conspiracy theories.

That’s just one of many fractures that have torn the GOP since Trump left office, spilling out publicly in the House of Representatives, engulfing the Michigan Republican party in chaos and taking hold in Wisconsin, where Trump’s most fervent grassroots supporters have launched an apparently endless campaign to take down the Republican state speaker of the assembly, Robin Vos.

Even the idea of another Trump candidacy has sparked controversy.

“The party is fairly solid on immigration, and where we stand in the world,” Andy Williams, an attorney and prominent party activist from Brown county, told me as he waited outside the convention center before the rally. “The thing that kind of drives them apart, [is] whether or not Trump should be the candidate or somebody else.”

Republicans gave a show of unity at Trump’s Green Bay appearance where he took a moment to endorse Senate candidate Eric Hovde, who is running to unseat Democratic senator Tammy Baldwin, before continuing his tirade.

In his speech, Trump focused on his favored bogeyman – undocumented immigrants. He peppered the crowd with anecdotal examples of crimes committed by migrants, eliciting jeers from his audience.

“This is an invasion of our country,” said Trump. Earlier on Tuesday, the Republican National Committee, which Trump’s team has overhauled and staffed with loyalists, created a new website dedicated to, in their words, “Biden’s border bloodbath”, attempting to twist Trump’s violent rhetoric around.

As his speech drew to a close, Trump turned back to the topic of elections, remembering that he would still need people to vote for him.

“So if you want to save America, then get everyone you know registered as Republican, as soon as possible, volunteer for our campaign and get out and vote in record numbers,” said Trump. “We want record numbers – even tonight, it’s important to get out.”

Outside, the streets were slick with slushy rain that had turned to snow as attendees left the rally. There were still two more hours left to vote.

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