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Mar 25, 2023
Defiant Trump at Texas Rally Predicts He’ll Survive Probes
(Bloomberg) -- A defiant Donald Trump railed against the investigations he faces and predicted he’d prevail during a rally in Waco, Texas, that may be the former president’s last public appearance before he faces potential criminal charges.
“When this election is over, I will be the president of the United States,” Trump said on Saturday to cheers from the crowd. “You will be vindicated and proud, and the thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced.”
It was Trump’s first rally of his 2024 campaign, staged at the city’s regional airport. The event was laden with symbolism and the timing fraught: 30 years ago this month, federal police besieged the Branch Davidians compound in Waco, leading to the deaths of the cult’s leader, David Koresh, and dozens of his followers. The siege energized the far right and stoked anti-government sentiment.
Speaking before Trump at the rally, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick called suggestions that the former president chose Waco because of the anniversary of the FBI raid “fake news” and said Trump asked him to pick the site for the rally.
Trump got an enthusiastic reaction from the sun-soaked crowd, many wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats and pro-Trump gear, holding “witch hunt” signs and chanting “we love Trump.” The venue had a capacity for about 15,000 people, and initial estimates from the Waco Fire Marshal’s Office were that about 10,000 people attended, according to Jonathan Cook, the city’s parks and recreation director.
A New York grand jury was expected to return to court as soon as Monday to consider charges against the former president in relation to hush-money payments he made to porn star Stormy Daniels before his 2016 election to cover up an alleged affair he denies. Trump had predicted last Saturday that he would be arrested last week in the New York probe.
At the Texas rally, Trump railed against the investigations he faces, the release of his tax returns and other perceived injustices he portrayed as Democrats trying to prevent him from returning to power. “When they go after me, they’re going after you,” he said.
Grievance is the bedrock of Trump’s third presidential campaign. He continues to insist, falsely, that the 2020 election he lost was fraudulent, and he said at the rally “either the deep state destroys America, or we destroy the deep state.”
Ahead of the rally, Trump spent the week making incendiary posts on his social media site, Truth Social, about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the prosecutors investigating him in Washington, DC, and Georgia. At the rally, he called the lead prosecutors in the Manhattan case “absolute human scum.”
On Friday, Trump warned of “potential death & destruction” if he is charged, after calling earlier in the week for protests against Bragg. The remarks were reminiscent of Trump’s statements before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol, when he summoned tens of thousands of his supporters to Washington for an event that he promised would be “wild.”
The former president opened his Texas rally playing the song he helped record in support of people arrested during the assault on the US Capitol to try to stop the finalization of Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election.
Trump has also called Bragg, who is Black, a “racist” and an “animal” and has sought to link him to billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, who is Jewish. Many Democrats regard the frequent Republican criticism of Soros as a dog whistle for anti-Semites and White supremacists.
“Trump feels cornered right now,” said Kevin Madden, a senior adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “When he’s cornered, he lashes out, and that’s what’s really driving the very hot level of his rhetoric.”
Read more: Trump Hurls ‘Death and Destruction’ Warning at DA on Rally’s Eve
The rally in Waco featured the usual assortment of vendors hawking “Let’s Go Brandon” and other MAGA shirts, flags and gear, with one man holding up a t-shirt that read, “Arrest Alvin Bragg.”
Rhonda Jones of Waco, 53, a restaurant hostess wearing a “Trump 2024, Take America Back” shirt, called the investigations that Trump is facing “political motivated.” Jones said she’d vote for an imprisoned Trump over President Joe Biden and would only consider a Republican alternative to Trump if he’s convicted of a serious crime.
“It would have to be pretty bad,” she said. “If it’s for an affair and have been paying off some woman? No, I don’t care.”
Bragg’s investigation is just one of at least four potential state and federal criminal cases Trump could face before the 2024 election. But despite his legal trouble, the former president has recently seen his early lead in the Republican primary race widen.
A Monmouth University Poll released March 21 found that 41% of Republican and GOP-leaning voters want Trump to be the party’s nominee in 2024 — up from 33% in February and 26% in December.
He has made particular progress against his leading GOP rival, Ron DeSantis, whom Trump has targeted with increasingly pointed attacks even though the Florida governor hasn’t yet declared his candidacy.
Trump devoted a section of his rally speech in Texas to criticizing “Ron DeSanctimonius” for being disloyal after Trump endorsed him for governor in 2018, and he portrayed the Florida governor’s record as overrated.
“Based on polls, he’s not doing OK on anything,” Trump said.
The only declared challengers to Trump so far are former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson. Only Haley registers in most polls, and her support is in the single digits.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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