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Why did Trump choose Waco for campaign kickoff rally?

From the Trump rally in Waco 2023 series
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Donald Trump’s presidential campaign now predicts the rally scheduled Saturday at Waco Regional Airport will attract 15,000 people, some fans already making their presence felt by hawking Trump-themed merchandise around town. The city of Waco will create 12 designated parking areas near the airport, and law enforcement is massing.

The event will start at noon Saturday, but parking lots will welcome guests four hours earlier, at 8 a.m. Gates open at noon, and the preliminaries kick off at 2 p.m. Former President Trump, who has made Waco his kickoff point for 2024 campaign rallies, is scheduled to speak 90 minutes beginning at 5 p.m.

Why Waco?

Why the Trump campaign chose Waco remains the subject of speculation. Some suggest the area’s rock-ribbed conservatism and loyalty to Trump carried the day. Others wonder if Waco being linked to the deadly Branch Davidian standoff in 1993, and the anti-government sentiment it kindled, proved attractive to Trump, who refers to Washington, D.C., as “the swamp.”

“I think Trump picked Waco, though maybe he had help,” said Holland, who earlier in the week told the Tribune-Herald that Republican higher-ups had indicated the Trump campaign preferred a site away from Texas’ major metropolitan areas such as Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin.

Pat Flavin, a political science professor at Baylor University, said Trump is “politically shrewd,” and that the Branch Davidian scenario might appeal to him.

“He has expressed skepticism and outright hostility toward the federal government, the deep state,” Flavin said. “But the fact this is the 30th anniversary of the Branch Davidian standoff could be dismissed as simply a coincidence.”

Flavin said he is very much interested in Saturday’s turnout, whether Trump still resonates with his base as he once did. He said he wonders if Trump has so much political baggage that his shot at a second term has passed.

“If there are big empty spaces on Saturday, concerns about that enthusiasm will be well founded,” Flavin said. “Perhaps that’s why he prefers places with a smaller venue, to avoid what might not be a good look.”

Mark Hays, who chairs the McLennan County Democratic Party, said Trump is a “showman.” The Democratic Party locally released a statement, saying, “We feel the former President’s visit to Waco serves to distract voters from more substantive issues. Donald Trump’s short time in the White House was a disaster for hard working Texas families and we are confident that, if he is the Republican nominee in 2024, our state will reject his failed vision.”

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, whose district includes Waco, said, “I am excited that President Trump has chosen Waco to kickoff his Texas campaign. I look forward to welcoming him and his many Central Texas supporters on Saturday.”

The rally is free to attend, though organizers ask that attendees register at More information about specifics of street closures is available at

Event prep

Jonathan Cook, Waco’s parks and recreation director who has spearheaded planning for other large gatherings, said during a press conference Thursday that attendees will have access to food, beverages and restroom facilities during what essentially will become a daylong event. Logistically speaking, planning has included consideration the airport will not close Saturday. Business as usual means departures and arrivals on the ground and in the air. A dedicated road route will be in place for people to access the airport terminal, though the city recommends allowing extra time to get there.

“Multiple agencies are involved in the security,” Sedelmeier said. “Waco PD is coordinating with national, state and local agencies.”

Agencies have played their cards close to the vest, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara, for example, telling the Tribune-Herald he would not discuss strategies nor the deputy count assigned to the Trump detail. The Texas Department of Public Safety’s media relations office responded to a request for information with an email message saying it would look into the matter.

Cook said about 30 city employees have involved themselves in event preparation, staffers mostly from the city manager’s office, parks and recreation, public works, legal, the Waco Police Department and the Waco Fire Department.

Waco City Manager Bradley Ford said during Thursday’s press conference the city about two weeks ago received an inquiry about hosting the rally. Initial planning has gone into overdrive as the day approaches.

And the Trump campaign has paid its tab for all the attention. City spokesperson Monica Sedelmeier said Thursday the campaign was billed $60,714 for city services, a debt now retired.

“We’re expecting thousands,” McLennan County Republican Party Chair Brad Holland said. “Our office is getting calls nationally and internationally. People traveling from other states is common, with contingents from North Carolina, New Mexico and Oklahoma expected. I’ve done interviews with a Canadian newspaper and TV station.”

Holland said the Trump campaign did not ask the local Republican Party to assist with the rally, but that Republicans here are looking forward to Trump’s arrival and would help if needed. He told the Tribune-Herald earlier this week the party remains neutral and would endorse no candidate. He said it would welcome appearances, for example, by GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign but has laid the groundwork for a run.

“His (Trump’s) campaign approached the city, the airport and the county before any of us, well before I knew it was on the radar,” Holland said.

Dan Quandt, Waco’s director of conventions and tourism, said he expects all major media to descend upon Waco to cover the first campaign rally. He said Monday he has not yet heard about rally-related hotel bookings.

“I’m in the loop on the Trump visit, but we haven’t had any guests reference staying due to it,” said Justin Edwards, who supervises the Waco Hilton and Courtyard by Marriott properties downtown, on Monday. “However, we were already at 90% (occupancy) with other events prior to the announcement.”

Political landscape

Trump's visit comes amid his continued legal battles with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office over $130,000 in alleged hush money Trump paid to stripper Stormy Daniels. Trump himself predicted last weekend he soon will be indicted, and said demonstrations by supporters may follow.

“I’m pleasantly surprised Waco made it on his radar,” said McLennan County Republican Party chairman Brad Holland. “He’s a presidential-level candidate, and we hope to get all candidates through here.”

“Nothing would please me more than to have Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley in Waco,” Holland said, mentioning other candidates who have announced a run, or are widely expected to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. “This certainly has given us enthusiasm going into the campaign, the primaries, and the election.”

He said Republicans in the county remain neutral, having endorsed no one.

“We won’t pick a winner or hazard a guess on who will win,” he said. “We will try to support whoever the nominee is as fervently as we can.”

Some Trump rallies attract large, enthusiastic crowds. Holland said he’s receiving emails and calls from people wanting to attend the Waco event.

“We’re trying to do the best we can with that,” he said. “Campaign 2024 is picking up really quickly, and we’re excited to see it.”

The Texas Tribune reports that according to February polling from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, 56% of Republicans surveyed said the former president should run again.