WACO — Flanked by supporters waving “witch hunt” signs, former President Donald Trump turned in a signature incendiary performance Saturday in Waco, using his first 2024 campaign rally to frame himself as a victim of politicized legal investigations and vowing to be the MAGA movement’s “retribution.”
"I am your warrior, I am your justice,” Trump said in a nearly 90-minute speech, most of it focused on perceived political enemies and slights. “For those who have been wronged and betrayed … I am your retribution."
Trump positioned himself as the sole protector of American values, painting a grim future if he is denied a second four-year term.
“I will prevent World War III, which we’re heading into,” Trump said to a crowd of thousands gathered on the tarmac of the Waco Regional Airport.
If returned to the White House, Trump promised to conduct the largest deportation operation in the nation’s history by increasing the number of border enforcement officers. Trump also pledged to reinstate Title 42, an emergency health order he initiated at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that has been used to turn away migrants, including asylum seekers, from the southern border since March 2020. The Biden administration plans to end the national pandemic-era public health order, and thus Title 42, in May.
Trump also vowed to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine within a day of beginning his next administration. Though he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a smart person, he said the invasion would have never have happened had he been president. He also predicted that Russia would eventually take over Ukraine.
Trump echoed recent criticisms he’s made against his most likely competition in the Republican presidential primaries, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has not yet declared his candidacy.
Trump claimed credit for DeSantis’ political rise after endorsing him in the 2018 governor’s race but said Florida has been in decline in the years since, due largely to DeSantis’ decision to close some public facilities at the onset of the pandemic.
When Trump wasn't positioning himself as the savior of American freedom, he cast himself as the victim of politicized attacks, particularly an investigation in New York into alleged hush payments made to an adult film star.
“This is really prosecutorial misconduct. The innocence of people makes no difference whatsoever to these radical left maniacs,” Trump said of the investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. “It is worse actually in my opinion — hard to believe anything can be worse than this — worse than ballot stuffing.”
Rick Taylor drove two hours from Comanche to see Trump speak and said he wasn’t disappointed, agreeing that Democratic control of the White House had to be prevented at all costs.
“Trump is the man for the hour. He’s the only man who can take on Washington in the times that we live in,” Taylor said. “Trump needs to dredge out the swamp with a bulldozer.”
Like Trump — who made dire predictions about the fate of America should he lose in 2024 — Taylor said the country would be unrecognizable if Democrats were to win the next election.
The most vocal response from the crowd came when Trump called to keep men out of women’s sports, which has become an increasingly popular issue among conservatives who say that transgender women competing in female athletics is taking opportunities away from women.
In 2021, the Texas Legislature banned transgender students from competing in public school sports that do not align with their gender at birth. This year, conservative lawmakers hope to extend that ban to university athletics.The crowd also roared in approval when Trump pledged to abolish critical race theory from America’s schools. CRT is a university-level area of study asserting that structural racism has been baked into American institutions.