Former President Donald Trump spoke for more than 90 minutes at a rally in Anchorage on Saturday to support Republican U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin and U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka.
“I’m here for two reasons: to support great candidates and to fulfill my promise to Alaska,” Trump said, referring to his vow to campaign against incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to impeach him and is running for reelection this year.
Trump took the stage at the Alaska Airlines Center around 4:30 p.m., remarked on what a special place Alaska is — “I’ve heard for years there’s no place more beautiful and I agree” — then launched into attacks against Murkowski. But most of his long speech was dedicated to bashing Democrats and glorifying his time as president.
He called Tshibaka, who is challenging Murkowski, “wonderful” and former Gov. Palin “legendary.” He called Murkowski “worse than a RINO,” referring to so-called Republicans in name only.
Trump also spoke in praise of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is running for reelection, calling him “terrific.” But Dunleavy was not in attendance and did not meet with Trump during his brief visit to Alaska, Dunleavy campaign spokesman Andrew Jensen said. Trump has said he would endorse Dunleavy as long as Dunleavy doesn’t support Murkowski.
In his lengthy remarks, Trump celebrated recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions including the one that overturned abortion protections guaranteed in Roe v. Wade; attacked Democratic President Joe Biden; exalted his own time in office; and took repeated aim at Murkowski, who broke with her party on several occasions to go against Trump.
“Last week we had a lot of success in many ways in a place called the Supreme Court,” Trump said.
“On guns, on religious liberty, on the environment, on Roe v. Wade. That was a big win,” Trump said, eliciting cheers. “We got it done.”
Trump nominated three of the six justices who were in the majority supporting the ruling that overturned the 1973 landmark Roe decision that protected abortion access on a national level.
[Jan. 6 panel sets prime-time hearing on Trump, awaits Bannon]
Murkowski received more mentions than the Trump-endorsed candidates, as Trump repeatedly bashed her.
“This is your precious chance to dump the horrific RINO Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who’s worse than a Democrat,” Trump said. “She’s a total creature of the Washington swamp and a tool of a corrupt establishment the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
A Murkowski campaign spokesperson responded in a written statement saying that Murkowski “has a proven history of putting politics aside and delivering for Alaska.”
“It is unfortunate that Lisa Murkowski’s political opponents continue to try to deceive Alaskans by misrepresenting her strong, demonstrated record of getting the job done in the Senate,” said spokesperson Shea Siegert.
Trump also took aim at Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, for endorsing Murkowski’s re-election campaign.
“Murkowski is a bad person and Dan Sullivan should never ever have given her an endorsement,” Trump said. “Dan Sullivan should be ashamed of himself.”
Trump blasted ranked choice voting, saying it “can be crooked as hell.” The new voting system was approved by Alaska voters in a ballot measure in 2020 and is implemented for the first time this year in the special U.S. House race.
“We’re stuck with it. You know why? Because of Murkowski. It’s the only way she could win,” Trump said. Architects of the new election system have said it would favor more moderate candidates.
[Photos: Trump appears at Anchorage rally]
Rally-goers began lining up outside the Alaska Airlines Center in the early hours Saturday. Music, food trucks and vendors selling Trump merchandise lent the event an air of a festival rather than a political rally, and several attendees said they had arrived to see Trump rather than to support the Alaska candidates.
Jerry Gamez and his wife, Christina — a retired Anchorage couple — paid $250 each to skip the line and secure their spots in the crowd. Eddie Erickson and Ty Saylor, 18-year-olds from Soldotna, said they drove together to Anchorage on Friday night so they could get in line at 5 a.m. Saturday.
“If we do not get more conservative politicians, our country is gone,” said Vickie Clay, who lives in Anchorage and is retired from the Alaska Air National Guard. She and her husband also paid $250 each to cut the line. Much of the funds raised during Trump’s visit benefited Palin and Tshibaka’s campaigns.
By the time Trump took the stage, nearly every seat in the arena, which has a capacity of 5,000, was full.
The rally drew prominent Republican state lawmakers — including House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton of Wasilla and Reps. Kevin McCabe of Big Lake and Sarah Vance of Homer — along with local officials, such as Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and Anchorage Public Library deputy director Judy Norton Eledge.
“It’s almost emotional seeing people come together,” Bronson said in an interview before Trump spoke, adding that he “would like to see Donald Trump as president.”
“His policies were the best policies for this country and this state that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Bronson said. “I know he irritates a lot of people but that’s fine, that’s his nature. In Alaska, we were booming under Donald Trump, and why anyone would oppose his efforts, especially here in Alaska, I can’t fathom.”
The view that Trump was the best president for Alaska is one shared, unsurprisingly, by Trump himself, who said he had “done more for Alaska than any president by far.” But he made several false claims about the state.
The former president claimed that Murkowski “wiped out ANWR.” But in 2017, a measure authored by Murkowski was passed by Congress, opening up parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. That measure was signed into law by Trump and oil leases were sold during the Trump administration. Biden halted the oil and gas drilling when he was elected, but Murkowski has consistently supported oil and gas development in the area.
Trump said “I got you Cove Road or whatever the hell they call it,” referring to a controversial road to King Cove that would go through a national wildlife refuge. The road has not been built, despite efforts by the Interior Department under Trump, along with Murkowski and others, to advance the project.
Trump also touted his authorization of a mining service road to Ambler Mine. The controversial road plan is under review by the Biden administration.
Doors to the rally opened at 11 a.m., but a line of people waiting to enter the arena still wrapped around the building when Anchorage chief equity officer Uluao “Junior” Aumavae led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance just before 2 p.m.
People continued to stream into the building as Palin and Tshibaka took the stage. Both candidates wasted no time in attacking their opponents.
“I know the good old boys club and too many RINOs are part of it,” said Palin. She then called out her Republican opponent in the U.S. House race, Nick Begich, who has said he voted for the former Democratic Anchorage mayoral candidate Ethan Berkowitz in 2015. Begich has said he voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.
Democrat Mary Peltola is also on the ballot in the special election to fill the vacant U.S. House seat, along with several others running in the general election primary in August.
Palin commanded loud cheers from the crowd, who chanted “drill, baby, drill!” — the phrase repeated by Palin on Saturday that dates back to 2008, when Palin was a vice presidential candidate. But among the Alaska GOP, there is no consensus on Palin. Conservative Anchorage Mayor Bronson and state House Minority Leader Tilton declined to say if they would vote for Palin, even as they said they would support Tshibaka.
Palin embraced her identity as an outsider to the party, drawing a connection between her experience and that of Trump and his supporters.
“We have been mocked and ridiculed and falsely accused and told to sit down and shut up,” she said. “The stuff that you’ve heard about me — it’s a lie. I’m way worse than what you’ve heard.”
Tshibaka, the former Dunleavy-appointed commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, dedicated her 10 minutes on stage to drawing a comparison between herself and incumbent Murkowski. Trump promised to campaign against Murkowski after she was one of seven Republicans in the U.S. Senate who voted to impeach him following the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“This Senate seat is often the deciding vote that can affect the rest of the nation,” Tshibaka said. Murkowski is known for her willingness to buck the party line on key issues, including abortion access, judicial nominees and gun control.
“It is time for a change,” Tshibaka repeated over and over again.
Murkowski was scheduled to meet with constituents in Kenai and Soldotna on Saturday. Begich held several campaign events in Anchorage on Saturday, his spokesperson Truman Reed said.
Dunleavy faces several Republican challengers, including at least one who attended the rally.
Among them is Christopher Kurka, a state House member running to the right of Dunleavy who attended the rally but did not meet with Trump. A VIP reception hosted by the Tshibaka and Palin campaigns asked for $20,000 for a photo with the former president.
Kurka arrived at the rally in a bus decked out with campaign signs, and he handed out campaign paraphernalia to rally-goers. He said the rally — the largest gathering of conservative voters in Alaska that Kurka could remember — would be helpful in drumming up support for conservative candidates, but for Trump supporters, it could lead to a mixed response.
“Dunleavy didn’t want to be on the stage so as not to offend Murkowski supporters. He’s basically trying to play both sides,” Kurka said after the rally. “Everybody knows he didn’t want to be here or he made the strategic decision not to be here. It’s quite offensive to Trump supporters.”
Dunleavy was traveling out of state on official business, spokesman Jeff Turner said. He did not respond when asked where the governor was traveling.
Both Palin and Tshibaka have repeated debunked claims about the results of the 2020 presidential election and have supported Trump despite mounting evidence that Trump knew his supporters were armed during the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and wanted to join them in the Capitol.
In interviews before the rally, many of the attendees dismissed evidence that has emerged in recent weeks indicating that Trump knew his supporters were armed ahead of the Capitol attack. Several also repeated false claims questioning the validity of the 2020 election.
Before Palin and Tshibaka took the stage, Mike Lindell, the executive of a pillow company and a prominent Trump supporter, addressed the crowd. He made the false claim that 20,000 votes “were stolen” from Trump in Alaska in the 2020 election. Trump won Alaska by a 36,000-vote margin, but lost the national general election.
“Trump 2024″ shirts and the iconic “Make America Great Again” red hats were ubiquitous at the rally. For Trump, it was another opportunity to tease a future presidential run.
“I ran twice, I won twice,” Trump said, repeating his false claims about winning the 2020 presidential election. “And now, with the approval of the great people of Alaska, we may have to do it again.”