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Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks to the crowd during a caucus event, Dec. 2, 2023, at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.Geoff Stellfox/The Associated Press

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, told his supporters on Saturday to “go into” Philadelphia and two other Democratic-run cities to “guard the vote” in 2024, repeating his unfounded claims of widespread election fraud in 2020 as justification for the call to action.

Speaking at a campaign event in Iowa, Trump said it was important to scrutinize the vote in the battleground states likely to determine the general election. He singled out the biggest cities in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

“So the most important part of what’s coming up is to guard the vote. And you should go into Detroit and you should go into Philadelphia and you should go into some of these places, Atlanta,” Trump said in Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines.

Trump’s comments foreshadow what is likely to be a contentious election in November 2024. Despite the failure of dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies challenging the outcome in 2020, Trump continues to claim, without evidence, that he lost to U.S. President Joe Biden due to fraud.

Trump did not specify who he was asking to “go into” the battleground-state cities. A campaign aide, when asked to clarify, said he was referring to poll-watchers and volunteers whose objective would be to ensure a secure election.

That would mesh with plans outlined by the Republican National Committee, which is aiming to recruit and train tens of thousands of poll workers and watchers in states that are hotly contested because their voting preferences could swing either to Republicans or Democrats.

‘VOLATILE PERIOD’ FOR DEMOCRACY

The comments by Trump, who served as U.S. president from 2017 to 2021, come amid growing scrutiny over his recent rhetoric on the campaign trail, which has included referring to his political enemies as “vermin,” a word some historians said echoed the language of Nazi Germany.

Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, said Trump’s comments calling for scrutiny of elections in large Democratic-controlled cities were concerning because he made them while seeking to undermine trust in U.S. elections.

“We are in a very volatile period in our democracy,” Naftali said. “If he is seeking to increase trust in our system he should be more explicit. But what he said today was in the context of his mistrust of our system.”

With a commanding lead in the Republican Party’s primary race, Trump is widely expected to win the nomination and face Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, next year.

In recent weeks Biden’s re-election campaign has more aggressively gone after Trump, highlighting his mounting legal troubles and likely policies it argues would hurt the economy, damage democracy and deprive individuals of rights.

Trump is facing four criminal trials, including a federal case centred on allegations that he sought to subvert the 2020 election, helped by a mob of his supporters who ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In a second Iowa event on Saturday in Cedar Rapids, Trump reiterated plans to reform the Affordable Care Act, known informally as Obamacare, calling the health care insurance program “a disaster.” He did not provide specifics.

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