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For first 2024 rally, Trump makes a provocative, symbolic choice

Between the former president’s increasingly hysterical rhetoric and references to violence, it strains credulity to see the Waco selection as coincidental.


The United States is a big country. When Donald Trump and his political operation were trying to choose the location of his first big rally of the 2024 campaign cycle, the former president had thousands of options.

He could’ve focused on Iowa, home to the Republican Party’s first caucuses. He could’ve prioritized early primary states, such as New Hampshire and South Carolina. He could’ve stuck with his adopted home state of Florida. In 2016, one of his first rallies was in Arizona, and he could’ve returned to the Grand Canyon State simply as a matter of tradition.

But the former president instead settled on Texas — a state that doesn’t appear to have special strategic significance for Trump’s comeback bid. What’s more, the Republican had plenty of choices within the Lone Star State — Texas is massive, with nearly 270,000 square miles — before settling on the city with the 24th largest population in the state.

Or put another way, Team Trump, with seemingly endless options, is holding its first big 2024 rally in Waco. The New York Times reported:

The date falls in the middle of the 30th anniversary of the weekslong standoff involving federal agents and followers of Mr. Koresh that left 82 Branch Davidians and four agents dead at Mount Carmel, the group’s compound east of the city.

To be sure, other candidates have chosen symbolically significant locations for key campaign events. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, for example, touted “states’ rights” at a county fair near Philadelphia, Miss. It was not lost on anyone that this was the same Mississippi community where three civil rights activists were murdered 16 years earlier by a gang of KKK members.

In other words, Reagan sent an unmistakable signal with his choice of events. Decades later, it’s hardly outlandish to believe Trump is doing something similar now.

But if Reagan wanted to wink and nod at white southerners, what exactly might Trump be trying to say by heading to Waco? The editorial board of The Houston Chronicle argued that the Republican is deliberately stoking dangerous fires.

The GOP-friendly city of Waco — Trump won McLennan County by more than 20 percentage points in 2020 — has every right, of course, to host a former president, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, but “Waco” the symbol, like “Philadelphia, Miss.,” the symbol, means something else entirely. “Waco” has become an Alamo of sorts, a shrine for the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers and other anti-government extremists and conspiracists.

“Militia members and conspiracists,” the Chronicle’s editors added, “know exactly what Trump’s Waco visit symbolizes.”

In fairness, I should note that Trump’s aides have said there is no subtext. The campaign operation told the Times, for example, that they chose Waco because it’s “centrally located and close to all four of Texas’ biggest metropolitan areas — Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio — while providing the necessary infrastructure to hold a rally of this magnitude.”

Maybe so. Then again, Team Trump says a lot of things, and it’s often tough to know what, if anything, to believe.

But between the former president’s increasingly hysterical rhetoric and references to violence, it strains credulity to see the Waco selection as coincidental.