Staging his first public rally of the 2024 election cycle, President Donald Trump lashed out at the many criminal investigations against him – particularly the one in New York City that could lead to his indictment any day.
“They’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you,” Trump told fervent supporters Saturday during a rambling speech in Waco, Texas, seeking support from his political base as he faces the prospect of becoming the first former president to face criminal charges.
The Waco rally – itself a source of criticism – came a week after Trump claimed he would be arrested by New York authorities in a case that revolves around hush money to an alleged mistress. That has not happened as a New York grand jury is reportedly continuing its investigation.
During the week, Trump repeatedly urged his supporters to protest the investigations in New York and elsewhere, exhortations that some lawmakers interpreted as calls to violence.
Trump did not make such a plea during a Waco speech that lasted some 95 minutes.
Trump in Waco rally targets investigations against him
Prosecutors in New York are investigating Trump over hush money to former adult film actress Stormy Daniels to buy her silence right before the 2016 presidential election. Investigators are looking into whether the payoff constituted an illegal campaign contribution that Trump tried to cover up.
In Waco, Trump attacked – but did not name – Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has received death threats that included a letter with an undisclosed substance that was “immediately contained,” his office said.
Law enforcement agencies are preparing security plans in New York and Washington in the event that Trump is indicted.
The former sprayed attacks on an array of government agencies, from the Manhattan DA’s office to the Supreme Court itself, which has ruled against executive privilege and forced Trump to turn over documents to investigators.
Judges have also allowed prosecutors to question Trump lawyers about his handling of classified documents, another investigation that Trump is trying to blunt.
While he did not urge people to protest – at the rally at least – Trump did strike threatening notes in his speech. He again promised to be an agent of “retribution” if he is again elected president, and told the crowd at one point: “Either the deep state destroys America or we destroy the deep state.”
Why did Trump pick Waco?
Political opponents assailed Trump’s decision to hold an event in Waco during the 30th anniversary of the standoff between federal agents and members of the Branch Davidian religious sect. It ended in an inferno at the Branch Davidian compound that claimed nearly 80 lives.
Mary Trump, the former president’s niece and one of his fiercest critics, called the site selection “a ploy to remind his cult of the infamous Waco siege of 1993, where an anti-government cult battled the FBI.” Before the event, Mary Trump tweeted that the former president “wants the same violent chaos to rescue him from justice.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a prominent Trump supporter who addressed the rally, used a barnyard epithet to describe claims that the former president went to Waco because of the violent events there.
Patrick, who ascended the rally stage as the PA system played a Brooks & Dunn song called “How Far to Waco,” said he picked the site because the people of the region represent “the American values and the Texas values and the godly values of this country … that’s that reason he’s here.”
McLennan County, which includes Waco, gave nearly 61% of its vote to Trump during the 2020 election.
‘Not gonna stop him’
The pro-Trump crowd that Trump seconded his attacks on law enforcement, and predicted that criminal charges would help him politically.
“They’re doing whatever they can to stop him, but that’s not gonna stop him,” said Linda Robinson, 75, of Robinson, Texas, near Waco. “It will push him to an election win.”
Others were unsure how it would play out, especially with Trump being challenged by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans.
Brad Cox, 43, from Teague, Texas, said criminal charges “could go either way. Politicians do a good job of spinning things.” While opponents like DeSantis would seek to “capitalize on it,” Cox said “Trump’s team would spin it in a positive manner.”
Members of Congress and Texas state officials have defended Trump joined him in Waco. That included Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., whom Trump suggested should considering running for the U.S. Senate.
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Trump vs. DeSantis
Other than the protests about law enforcement and investigations, Trump’s speech in Waco featured the usual grab-bag of issue arguments and political attacks on President Joe Biden, “open order fanatics,” “globalists,” new election rules, military aid to Ukraine and other assorted “vultures” who oppose him.
Trump again struck a near-apocalyptic tone as voters approach the 2024 election. Trump called it “the final battle” and claimed that the country is “doomed” if it does not go well for him.
Trump offered a lengthy attack on DeSantis, the Florida governor who is polling the best among Trump’s potential opponents for the Republican presidential nomination. He criticized DeSantis over plans to change Social Security and “I’m not a big fan.” rather than investigations.
DeSantis has criticized the potential prosecution as politically motivated – he also repeated the sordid details behind the allegations, telling reporters that, “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.”
Some political analysts mocked Trump’s performance.
“This speech is like getting cornered by a guy at a party who is 11 beers deep and can’t stop talking about how his career & marriage didn’t go as well as he hoped,” tweeted Tim Miller, a former GOP political strategist and author of “Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell.”
Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a CNN commentator, said there was “nothing new” in Trump’s event and “there won’t be anything new. This is what it is and we’ll find out whether the Republicans want this or something evolved beyond what he represents
Ted Nugent opens Waco rally
Trump supporters who attended the rally at the Waco airport seemed pleased.
Ted Nugent, the Texas-based rocker, kicked off the rally with a guitar rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The outspoken conservative and long-time Trump supporter musician also riled up the faithful by bashing Biden on items ranging from Planned Parenthood funding to military aid for Ukraine.
“I want my money back!” he said.
Trump boosters dominated the crowd, but not everybody was a committed Trump voter.
Lisa Ventura, who said she traveled two hours to get to the Waco rally, wore a Trump lapel but said she hasn’t decided if she’ll vote for him or DeSantis.
“He’s a good candidate, too,” Ventura said.