The 2024 presidential race has begun and Donald Trump comes spoiling for a fight. Trump drew the battle lines when he spoke to over 50,000 Texans for 80 minutes Saturday night at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds outside Conroe, Texas. I was there. It was an intense ride.
A little background before sharing my thoughts on the event: I covered the Tea Party for years all across the country. I traveled to D.C. and covered two marches on the Capitol. I attended the first Tea Party rally in the state of Texas and reported from there. Tea Party rallies are where I met and covered Andrew Breitbart, Sarah Palin, and many other notables.
Tea Partiers basically divided along two lines: There were the small government types who wanted to be left alone. This faction was made up of small business owners. Women started the Tea Party organizations on behalf of the businesses they and their husbands ran. They protested taxes and big bailouts of banks. They thought the bailouts were grossly unfair since small businesses weren’t rescued. They wanted no rescues. They wanted fewer taxes and regulations.
The second part of the Tea Party was folks who hated the big bank bailouts because they felt that if the government was going to help anyone, it should be the individual. These are the populists. They felt Social Security was a right. They often believed in socialized medicine. They were many times socially liberal. I met many abortion-indifferent people of this stripe in the Tea Party. There would be little difference between these folks and Bernie Bros. The only quibble? Potential solutions, but maybe not even that.
The former part of the Tea Party movement, more libertarian and small government, was more likely to vote for Ted Cruz in the primaries against Trump. The latter group, plus the establishment wing of the party’s base, voted for Trump. The dead-enders voted for Evan McMullin or the Democrat-lite Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.
Texans in 2016 chose Ted Cruz in the primary. That would not happen today. Texas is Trump country now.
The Trump rally was notable for who didn’t attend. Absent from the festivities: Sen. Ted Cruz, representative wannabe Morgan Luttrell, and Attorney General Wannabe George P. Bush (son of Jeb!). Dan Crenshaw attended but was not mentioned by Trump. Dan Crenshaw is running for the new district that straddles Montgomery and Harris County which was carved out just for him.
This is a side prediction: Dan Crenshaw has a tougher race on his hands due to redistricting. He has oodles of cash and may choose to ignore his Montgomery County voters. The establishment in Texas wanted to break up the state’s reddest district, Kevin Brady’s. Why? These voters are deep red and make establishment guys’ lives difficult. No part of the most populous red county in Texas is a majority in the newly drawn districts.
The upshot: Trump voters are being divided and conquered by establishmentarians like John Cornyn. Cornyn’s campaign guy is working for Morgan Luttrell now. To learn more, read this excellent explainer.
Luttrell did not show up to Trump’s rally, which was in his backyard and hosted 35-45 percent of his voters. He didn’t have to. The more liberal suburban voters who make up the majority of his district will have the voice now. Montgomery County is carved up and will be promptly forgotten.
Once again, the Republican Party, as much as the Democrats, is making positions safe for incumbents who are establishment, big government guys who will bend the knee, have bent the knee, to corporate interests, and not the interests of their voters.
This brings us back to the Trump rally, which was smack dab in the middle of these voters who voted 70 percent for Trump in the previous district map. Who showed up? The dispossessed. And now, the even more disenfranchised due to redistricting. The blue-collar worker. The small business guy. The God-believers. The patriots.
A friend of a friend got me expedited entry. For this rally, I chose not to sit with the media. I have never been to or reported at a Trump rally and wanted to get the feel of it, talk to people, and get the sense of the crowd.
My seats were perfect. I was in the stands next to the chute that brought the speakers to and from the stage. I could view the VIP section from my perch, see speakers as they came and went, and get photographs of the crowd as I faced them from behind the stage at an angle.
No one mattered but Trump.
Gov. Greg Abbott came out to speak, seeking to shore up the goodwill he lost when he implemented mask mandates. The crowd was mostly polite save for a couple of hecklers behind me in our section. Abbott will likely win with no problem, but his waffling on COVID did him no favors and voters aren’t in a forgiving mood. His speech ended with him leading a Trump chant.
Every speaker’s subject? Trump. There were policy ideas thrown in here or there. There were allusions to Texas independence and Santa Ana’s name was taken in vain. There were odes to “Come and Take It!” but this was a Trump rally and those who were there were team Trump and all about Trump. Those who were not there do not have a Trump agenda, but they have an agenda.
Another reminder about the Tea Party. The establishment hated the Tea Party, too. Oh, there are some (and I could name names) who pretend they were all about it, but they weren’t. And there were some horrendous grifters (and I could name names), many who circle Trump now and are as much trouble to him as they were to the people who gave money to them when they ran the Tea Parties. Still, the Tea Party gave Republicans the House and Senate in huge waves. Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, and Lindsey Graham in the Senate and whoever runs the House (it’s changed over the years) have resisted the Tea Party’s influence and marginalized their voices. This has happened every election cycle.
Now, Liz Cheney operates as a Democrat and is doing the establishment GOP’s dirty work by using the January 6 Select Committee to smear, and if they can, indict Donald Trump and anyone who was effective in helping Trump.
The voters are watching and, if this rally is any indication, they are enraged. It has been more than a decade now since the end of George W. Bush’s tenure. The bank failures and bailouts started with him and continued with Obama. Irresponsible bankers were not punished and the stakeholders in GM were screwed in favor of union leadership. These two gross abuses of power and taxpayer dollars have not been forgotten and served as the populist catalyst we see today. The elites in D.C., the media, corporations, and education have only gotten more recalcitrant and inflexible.
With COVID, the divide has expanded. The Trump rally attendees believe that 2020 was rigged. The biggest chant? “Fix 2020!” This refrain was repeated over and over. These voters feel disenfranchised and robbed.
Trump’s speech lasted for over an hour but was the quickest time at the rally. His son Don Jr. came out and spoke earlier and gave a fine speech, filled with humor and goodwill. Trump’s speech and his audience were more serious, grim even.
The January 6 people were overtly talked about for the first time and Trump mentioned that should he run and win, they’d be pardoned.
The Southern District of New York came up, too. Trump talked about how the attorneys there, and partners in Clinton’s law firm who have taken leaves of absence to investigate him, are on a mission to find evidence of a crime not yet stated. This, of course, is opposite to how it’s supposed to work. The audience knew what he was referring to. The crowd hung on to every word, nodding along.
The biggest cheers came in surprising places. When Trump mentioned moving the capital of Israel to Jerusalem, the audience erupted positively.
Otherwise, it was all business.
What does this all mean? No one has the natural political charisma of Donald Trump. The closest I’ve witnessed is Sarah Palin. Some people are just gifted at connecting with large groups of people. The closest thing I’ve seen to Trump’s ability to engage his audience: CM Punk at a WWE event. Trump, like Punk, is a juggernaut and I wonder who will have the temerity to run against him. It seems that it will be a futile endeavor. This is probably why so many have put their hopes on the January 6 Select Committee. It’s all up to Liz Cheney, now. And her mission is clear: Take out the former president so that he can’t run again.
If that happens, though, the Republican base will be mutinous. A martyr will be created. Will the D.C. powers be equipped to deal with the electoral fury they unleash should they take out Trump?
The speech and the political and media establishment’s war on Trump and his refusal to surrender and melt into the woodwork is a giant game of chicken.
Who has the power?
Is it the John Cornyns and Mitch McConnells and Liz Cheneys of the world? Or is it the American voter? Is it the media? Or is it the American voter?
One might question why I’m not using Trump’s name here. It’s because he is more than himself. He’s become a symbol in much the same way the Clintons are a symbol.
On the one side, there are FBI agents and attorneys in the Department of Justice and BLM and Antifa criminals and Hillary Clinton and Marc Elias who are above the rule of law, who can tear the country apart, and who will never, ever be subject to consequences. On the other side, there are the common businessmen and women and individuals who must serve them, work through the pandemic, take on risk every day, and who will spend years in prison if they walked through the Capitol on January 6.
This standoff is happening throughout Europe, and with the trucker convoy, it’s even happening in Canada. On a simmering low level, it’s happening in America. The only thing that’s saved the White House from riots is (1) Biden is a Democrat and above the law, and (2) people in red states have been granted some normalcy because local officials have governed more sensibly. But the anger is there.
People are mistaking patience and tolerance for acceptance in the United States. It was plain after being at the Trump rally that there is little acceptance for what these various political regimes are forcing on their citizens.
Republicans and Democrats both are playing a dangerous game. They continually thwart the will of the people in service to a tyrannical minority — namely themselves. They do this by manipulating the media, social media, search results, public policy, insider trading, wrongful prosecutions, regulations, and legal persecution. This, in turn, manipulates public opinion. But with the 2020 election, the voters feel betrayed.
Don Jr. brought up Hunter Biden’s laptop and the nefarious activity of the Biden clan. He asked rhetorically what would happen if instead of the name Hunter Biden, the name was Don Trump Jr. Everyone knows the answer. It’s obvious, even to people who hate the Trump family.
That’s a problem. There’s an outrageous reality Americans are facing and perhaps that’s why the Trump rally seemed less festive than it might have been. Donald Trump, a president of the United States, has been deplatformed from nearly every form of media. He’s been marginalized and treated with contempt. He’s being peppered with frivolous lawsuits and investigated by political partisans with the misnomer “justice.” It’s sobering to know that the powers that be want him in prison and want him so damaged that no one will be seen near him. Trump’s supporters know if they can do it to a president, no one is safe.
And no one is safe. Joe Rogan is being targeted with deplatforming because he won’t conform to every single ideological belief of the left. He must submit … or else.
Or else, what? Biden does not have the consent of the governed. Politicians like Liz Cheney don’t have the consent of their own voters. The whole of the government represents their own interests, not the interests of the people, and these autocrats do not even have the humility to pretend to care about their citizens. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t even meet with those he deems lesser. He doesn’t agree with their positions. A leader has to agree with those he represents; otherwise, he’s nothing.
Trump stands in opposition to this and that makes the rhetorical power he wields especially potent. It covers a multitude of sins. It masks his terrible choices in advisers. It lets him off the hook for having ignored those who are being persecuted on his behalf. It belies policy ignorance and laziness. These underlying weaknesses should be shored up.
These challenges also point to the purpose of the January 6 Select Committee. What sane person would risk his life and livelihood to serve a president who the bureaucrats, Deep State, whatever you want to call it, want to ruin?
Donald Trump is not blinking. It’s clear that he’s running for president again. It’s also clear that both the Democrats and Republicans want him and his political movement utterly destroyed.
America is in an untenable position. That’s why I left the peaceful rally with unease. The attendees were decent, law-abiding, respectful, and serious, but no one currently governing is taking their position seriously.
Thousands of uniformed and undercover police were at the rally. I have never seen so many lawmen and women in one place at one time. I thought they were there because trouble was expected, so I inquired. But no. They were there because they love Trump, too, and wanted to be there to protect him. They would take a bullet for this man without even thinking about it. They had that in common with thousands in the audience.
This type of love and devotion is what politicians dream of having. Donald Trump has it. It’s no wonder so many D.C. creatures are afraid. Their fear is making them stupid.
Who will win the game of chicken? That’s the problem. It’s easier to see lots of losers. It’s more difficult to see anyone winning.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article states that Dan Crenshaw did not show up to the Save America rally. Rep. Crenshaw did show up, but was not mentioned as a guest by any speakers.