WACO (Nexstar) — Months after announcing his third bid for the White House, former President Donald Trump spoke for longer than an hour and a half to nearly 20,000 supporters at his first major rally of the presidential cycle in Waco.
Trump took center stage Saturday, hitting familiar beats, such as decrying top Democratic leaders, bashing the “fake news media” and asserting his innocence in his ongoing criminal investigation.
“I say again to you tonight: I am your warrior, I am your justice,” Trump said. “I am your retribution. We will take care of it.”
Trump also took jabs at top Republican politicians, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has hinted at a presidential campaign of his own, and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell.
National and Texas Republican leaders also spoke Friday to a crowd of enthusiastic Trump supporters before the former president took the stage. Speakers included, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fl.), U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores (Tx.), U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (Tx.), U.S. Rep. Wesley Hunt (Tx.), Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and musician Ted Nugent.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quick to shut down speculation that Trump’s choice of venue was related to the Branch Davidians standoff of 1993, calling it “bull**** fake news.” Patrick said he personally chose the venue after Trump called him to ask for a fitting city.
The former president said he wanted to come to a deep red part of Texas.
“I said, you know Dan, let’s not do one of those fifty-fifty areas,” he said of his conversation with Lt. Gov. Patrick. “Let’s go right into the heart of it.”
Trump won 60.8 percent of the vote in Waco’s McLennan County in 2020.
Trump’s indictment and Stormy Daniels payment
A Manhattan grand jury has been privately hearing evidence for weeks over hush-money payments that Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, made to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign cycle. The $130,000 payment was to silence her from going public about her claim of having an affair with then-candidate Trump before the election.
That evidence will be used in the jury’s consideration about whether the Trump Organization violated campaign finance laws and falsified business records.
New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, has not given official statements as to whether his office will soon seek an unprecedented indictment against the former president.
The former president has denied wrongdoing and called the investigation politically motivated.
Thousands of supporters are expected to welcome back the former president to Waco, which gave Trump 61% of its vote in both 2016 and 2020.
Texas Republicans still favor Trump, polling shows
Trump’s job approval rating was always high among Texas Republicans, never dropping below 78% throughout his presidency, according to polling by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas-Austin.
His favorability ratings among Texas Republicans, and likely GOP primary voters, have remained consistently strong — even in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, when Trump supporters attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Eighty-one percent of Republican voters surveyed in February 2021 said Trump’s actions that day do not disqualify him from holding future office.
A February 2023 survey of GOP Texas voters showed 56% wanted the former president to run for office again. Among independent voters, 63% said Trump should not run again, according to the Texas Politics Project.
While Trump is highly favored, he is not the only popular GOP politician with Texas Republican voters. In the Texas Politics Project’s most recent February poll, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis trailed four points behind Trump in terms of favorability, at 75%. Gov. Greg Abbott enjoyed the highest rating, with 85% of Republican voters viewing him favorably.
Who else is running for president in 2024?
So far, only two other Republicans have thrown their hat in the ring for a 2024 bid for president. Former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, Nikki Haley, announced she is running last month. Vivek Ramaswamy, a multimillionaire entrepreneur and author who describes himself as “anti-woke,” has also announced a bid for the presidency.
On the Democratic side, President Joe Biden is expected to run for a second term as president, but has not officially launched a re-election campaign. Marianne Williamson, a self-help author and spiritual adviser, is running for a second time after an unsuccessful 2020 bid.