Top takeaways from Trump’s first rally since news of looming indictment threat

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Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard) Nathan Howard/AP

Top takeaways from Trump’s first rally since news of looming indictment threat

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A familiar version of Donald Trump was on full display Saturday evening as the former president addressed an energized crowd of hundreds of supporters in his first official campaign rally in Waco, Texas.

The event marked Trump’s first public appearance since reports emerged about looming indictment charges related to a hush money case that began during his first presidential run in 2016. Trump capitalized on those threats as he spoke to attendees, seeking to use the possible charges as a way to paint himself as a victim of political attacks while he seeks a return to the Oval Office.

WATCH LIVE: TRUMP HOLDS FIRST 2024 CAMPAIGN RALLY IN TEXAS AS INDICTMENT FEARS LOOM

“As far as the eye can see, the abuses of power that we’re currently witnessing at all levels of government will go down as among the most shameful, corrupt, and depraved chapters in all of American history,” Trump told the crowd. “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited, and totally disgraced. That’s what’s been happening from the beginning, it’s been one witch hunt and phony investigation after another.”

Trump also leaned into old campaign habits throughout the rally, firing off against his critics and political challengers while seeking to position himself as the best option for the GOP nomination in 2024.

Here are five key moments from Trump’s rally:

‘It’s bulls***’: Trump addresses indictment charges for first time

Trump denounced efforts by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to indict him, decrying possible criminal charges as being politically motivated to tarnish his reputation ahead of a crucial election cycle.

Trump lamented the ongoing investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as being “rigged” by Democrats, arguing the inquiry was being improperly used to make him ineligible for the 2024 presidential election.

“Can you imagine that in order to prosecute and do everything he could to get rid of Trump because you know our poll numbers are through the roof,” Trump told a crowd of supporters on Saturday. “They don’t like it.”

Trump denied any wrongdoing in the Manhattan investigation, which centers on allegations that Trump paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about a sexual affair while he was running for office. Trump denied both the affair and the payments during the rally, arguing prosecutors “have nothing.”

“The Department of Injustice in Washington, D.C., was investigating me for something that is not a crime, not a misdemeanor, not an affair. I never liked Horseface,” Trump said, referring to a nickname he has previously used for Daniels.

Trump hammers dangers of ‘Deep State’ on backdrop of Waco massacre

Trump extended his criticisms to the federal government at large, framing the 2024 election as crucial to stopping Democrats’ “demonic forces” that he said are destroying the country.

“Either the Deep State destroys America or we destroy the Deep State. That’s the way it’s got to be,” Trump said.

His comments were delivered on the backdrop of the Waco massacre that occurred 30 years ago that white supremacists and militia activists still view as “proof that the government—now usually called the Deep State—is out to get them,” Dr. Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Alabama-based Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told the Washington Examiner. 

The Waco siege was a 51-day stand-off in the spring of 1993 that occurred when FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents battled residents inside the Branch Davidian complex for control of the property from its leader, David Koresh. Since then, the event has become one of the nation’s most infamous citizen showdowns against the government.

In total, four federal agents and 82 Branch Davidians, including 28 children, died in the incident.

Trump’s campaign spokesman didn’t mention whether the symbolism of the anti-government landmark was intentional, but he noted Waco was the “ideal location” because of its proximity to Texas’s major metropolitan areas and its infrastructure to host “a rally of this magnitude.”

Trump ramps up attacks against DeSantis, taking credit for Florida governor’s successes

Trump ramped up attacks against Gov. Ron DeSantis, ripping into the Florida Republican for his dwindling poll numbers and recent criticism leveled against the former president.

Trump reiterated previous comments taking credit for DeSantis’s successes in the Sunshine state, telling supporters that the Florida governor’s political career would be “dead” without Trump’s popularity. Trump recalled stories of DeSantis asking the former president for his endorsement in 2018, which he claimed allowed the Florida governor to become “like a rocketship.”

“We laugh at him now, but he was one of the hottest people in politics,” Trump said. “But I think we’re doing well, I mean we’re up … in the polls in the last four or five in the last month.”

Trump also attacked DeSantis on some key policy issues, accusing the Florida Republican of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits — something that has become a flashpoint issue ahead of the 2024 election cycle. DeSantis has previously responded to similar attacks, noting he and other Republicans will not “mess with” the welfare programs.

Trump takes hard stance on war in Ukraine, warns of impending World War III

Going further, Trump went to great lengths to separate himself from DeSantis regarding the war in Ukraine, pledging to end the conflict should he be elected to a second term. He pointed to the working relationship he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his White House term, arguing an invasion was never something that was discussed.

“I’m going to get a settlement very quickly,” Trump told supporters. “As president, I will end the inflation nightmare and rebuild the greatest economy in the history of the world just like we had it before.”

He also offered warnings to attendees that the U.S. is “heading into World War III,” positioning himself as the “only candidate” to prevent such a global conflict from happening.

“This will be a war like no other,” Trump said. “Not only is Biden courting nuclear holocaust, he’s blowing up the U.S. economy with the Biden banking crisis.”

Trump announces Texas campaign team stacked with high-profile Republicans

Trump used the night to tout his campaign’s strength despite pending legal battles, unveiling his initial leadership team that includes a slate of several high-profile Republican lawmakers on both the state and federal level.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton will both play key roles in Trump’s campaign, as well as 10 GOP members of Texas’s congressional delegation including Reps Ronny Jackson, Troy Nehls, Wesley Hunt, Michael Burgess, Pete Sessions, John Carter, Randy Weber, Roger Williams, Brian Babin, Beth Van Duyne, and Pat Fallon.

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The key team appointments come as Trump seeks to establish Texas as “Trump country” early on in the primary season before the GOP field gets too crowded. His campaign has spent weeks touting polling numbers coming out of the Lone Star state over the last few months that show Trump overcoming an early lead by DeSantis in January to lead the field by 16 points in March.

“In conclusion, our MAGA movement is the greatest political movement in the history of our country,” Trump said. “No matter how hateful and corrupt the communist criminals we’re fighting against, you must never forget this nation does not belong to them. This nation belongs to you.”

Anna Giaritelli contributed to this report.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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