DALLAS — Texas is Donald Trump’s second home.
En route to becoming U.S. president in 2016, he developed a formidable network of Texas grassroots activists, GOP leaders and campaign donors, much of it grounded in the Dallas area.
But for Trump’s third run at the White House, will home still feel like home?
“Texas has been a bedrock for Donald Trump and the Trump administration,” said Republican political consultant Matthew Langston. “There’s a natural curiosity of who else is out there, but it’s going to be hard for many of the grassroots activists to move off of Trump. They might not like everything that he does, but he’s going to go out and fight every day for items that Texans believe in.”
An early test of Trump’s Texas strength is Saturday, when he’ll stage his first major campaign rally in Waco, a Central Texas city that doesn’t get a lot of visits during presidential campaigns. Organizers expect a large, festive event that will not only serve to kick off Trump’s presidential campaign, but send a message to prosecutors in New York and other places who are expected to indict the former president.
After his 2020 loss, Trump is expected to face several GOP primary opponents to his comeback attempt for the White House. Some former supporters already have left the nest, looking instead to back the potential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Others are taking a wait and see approach.
The Waco rally could be largely composed of grassroots activists and loyal Trump supporters. Many former Trump donors and some elected officials won’t make the event, including U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, the Republican who represents the area in Congress.
“I am excited to see President Trump arrive and vie for the support of voters in the Lone Star State,” said Sessions, adding in a statement that he has a prior commitment in Nacogdoches. “The 2024 Republican presidential primary will be a dynamic competition between the candidates on the path toward nomination.”
At the moment, political analysts say the odds are Trump will keep his Texas home in order and win the lion’s share of delegates in next year’s Texas presidential primary.
“He gets 35% to 40% of Republicans all day, every day in Texas,” said Plano-based GOP consultant Vinny Minchillo, who worked on Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns.
Trump’s Texas support
Texans were early to embrace Trump’s emergence as a presidential candidate, though he was the second choice in the 2016 Texas presidential primary to Sen. Ted Cruz, the state’s favorite son.
But even then, Trump’s sway with Texas GOP activists was clear. Cruz, who waged a bitter campaign against the then New York businessman and reality television star, refused to endorse the soon-to-be Republican nominee on the convention floor. He was booed by Texas delegates, and they lit him up with criticism at the morning breakfast that followed his floor speech.
Trump’s popularity in Texas caused Cruz’s poll numbers to dip, but he rebounded when he eventually backed his rival and the two became close allies. Once thought to be a 2024 presidential contender, Cruz has said he’s running for reelection next year.
Trump went on to develop a fundraising and grassroots machine in Texas. He tapped Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the state chairman for his presidential campaigns. On the fundraising side, Dallas investor Roy Bailey, a prolific fundraiser for Rick Perry, a former New York mayor and many other Republicans, became the national co-chairman of Trump’s campaign finance team.
By 2020, nearly every Texas Republican elected official had fallen in line behind Trump, including then Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who sought Trump’s support in his unsuccessful 2022 bid for Texas attorney general. Trump backed incumbent Republican Ken Paxton, who went on to beat Bush in a runoff and Democrat Rochelle Garza in the 2022 general election.
But after his 2020 loss, many elected Republicans aren’t rushing to back the former president for 2024. One leading Republican, Rep. Chip Roy of Austin, says he’s supporting DeSantis, who is not yet an official candidate.
“It’s time for younger, but proven, leadership” to take on President Joe Biden next year, the Austin Republican told supporters in an email blast.
Jeremy Bradford, former executive director of the Tarrant County Republican Party, said Roy’s sentiment is shared by other Republicans.
“I’ve already moved on from him and I’ll be supporting DeSantis,” Bradford said. “He’s the guy that’s needed to move the party forward, so I’ve kind of moved on from Trump as a lot of Republicans have.”
Bailey, Trump’s former national finance co-chairman, told The Dallas Morning News that he’s undecided on a 2024 presidential contender.
“When you look at the field, it’s clear that Republicans have a strong bench,” he said. “If Gov. DeSantis gets in the race, it will be the strongest field of candidates in recent history.”
Bailey said based on Trump’s criticism of DeSantis that “it appears that Trump thinks DeSantis is his strongest opponent.”
Most Texas House members have not committed to a candidate, but odds are they will find their way back to Trump. And Langston, the political consultant, said other Texas elected officials and grassroots activists will likely stick with Trump.
Many of them owe him.
In recent elections Trump has backed Texas Republicans up and down the ballot, including Gov. Greg Abbott, Patrick and Paxton. Along with many congressional endorsements, he endorsed down-ballot candidates that included Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, Tarrant County District Attorney Phil Sorrells and state Rep. Frederick Frazier, R-McKinney.
Patrick has signaled that he’ll support Trump.
And with Trump still the most influential voice in the GOP, some leaders will find it difficult to go against him, or even stay neutral.
“Unlike DeSantis, Trump has the ability to cash in those favors,” Langston said.
Impact of legal woes
Political analysts say Trump’s reentry into the presidential sweepstakes was not like 2015, when the energy around his candidacy made him a celebrity candidate. His politics are now well-known and rivals like DeSantis represent a fresh approach.
But his legal troubles, including a potential indictment by New York prosecutors involving hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, are expected by some analysts to pump energy into Trump’s presidential bid.
It gives the Waco rally, which is being billed as the first major event of Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, added relevance.
“He defies conventional wisdom. He is really the Teflon Don in so many ways,” Minchillo said. “His poll numbers still seem to stay pretty. It seems unlikely that it’s going to hurt him at this point.”
Plano businessman Wayne Richard, a longtime Trump supporter, said Trump was benefiting by the legal drama in New York.
“If anything gets the grassroots behind him it’s the Manhattan DA,” Richard said. “It’s so political.”
Richard said he expects an energetic Waco rally.
“Waco will be over the top,” he said. “Always remember, it’s not necessarily a Trump movement. It’s a Make America Great Again movement. Trump represents what the patriots believe and feel in their heart: America first.”