Forty-Nine Months Later, President Trump Returns to the American Airlines Center

President Donald Trump speaks at the American Airlines Center on Sept. 14, 2015. Thursday night, he returns.
President Donald Trump speaks at the American Airlines Center on Sept. 14, 2015. Thursday night, he returns. Mikel Galicia
One thing you can't say about President Donald Trump, and there aren't many, is that he's never taken North Texas for granted. Unlike basically every national politician in Texas' blood-red era, the real estate developer turned reality TV star turned political sideshow turned legitimate candidate turned president has shown up again and again in DFW. He's come to frack the region's deep campaign-donation deposits, sure, but he's also thrown a bevy of honest-to-God campaign events, seeking out the only thing he truly seems to enjoy about being a politician — big, adoring crowds hanging on every ingredient in his word salad. The Observer 's been there for all of it, from Trump's first Dallas presidential rally in September 2015 to his stop at the NRA's annual meeting at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in 2018. Let's take a look at some of the highlights:

Sept. 14, 2015
Venue: American Airlines Center
Co-stars: Robert Jeffress, Katrina Pierson and Scottie Nell Hughes
What we wrote:

"Attending one of Donald Trump's events is like stepping into an alternate reality where the United States has reaped the whirlwind of years of nativism and indulging its worst impulses. He offers nothing in the way of policy. We are supposed to trust him, because of the archetype he represents and the other he wants us to fear. No problem is too big. Trump will simply negotiate his, our, way out of it. The crowd Monday night at the American Airlines Center, not quite 20,000 but still impressive, was ready to be saved."
What we think about it now:

Heading into the rally, Trump's candidacy, launched just a couple of months before with the "rapists and criminals" speech at Trump Tower, was still a curiosity. Listening to his speech that night, it was impossible to deny the deep connection he'd already formed with a subset of Texas voters, many of whom acted more like they were at a religious revival than a political event. Another thing we picked up on: Trump speeches are long. Like, really long. Whatever you may think about the president, his ability to stand at a lectern and keep talking is incredible.

Feb. 26, 2016
Venue: Fort Worth Convention Center
Co-stars: Jeffress and Chris Christie
What we wrote:

"A lot of the crowd leaves as Trump's speech meanders toward the end of the lunch hour. They're greeted by protesters yelling about forgotten Klan hoods, but don't seem ready to change their minds. Trump may not provide any details about how he intends to accomplish any of the stuff — the border wall, dragging foreign factories back to the United States or replacing the Affordable Care Act with "something great" — that he says he will, but that just puts him on a level playing field with the Democrats, a guy headed back to work tells his buddy, who'd been complaining that there was no way Trump could win a general election."
What we think about it now:

It was impossible to know at the time, but Trump, who picked up former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's endorsement at this rally, was already a steamroller. In his speech, he parried a last-ditch attack from Marco Rubio without breaking stride, showing the disdain for his Republican rivals that would ultimately help him secure the nomination a couple of months later. The president was already untouchable at this point, we just didn't know it yet.

June 16, 2016
Venue: South Side Ballroom
Co-stars: Jeffress and Stephen Miller
What we wrote:

"Trump's speech is meandering, but his worldview is easy to grasp. There are things that are good — the wall, his primary performances, the Second Amendment — and things that are bad — Clinton, undocumented immigrants and the media. Trump calls them out and the crowd responds. Repeat as necessary.

"Where are my protesters?" Trump asked at one point, actually inducing a protester to shout back at him before being escorted out by Dallas police. "Don't hurt them. I always say that, don't hurt them."

There were local flourishes. Trump repeatedly referred to Gilley's mechanical bull as a horse and said that even if he rode it successfully, the media would only report that he fell off."  
What we think about it now:

By this point, Trump's antagonism of protesters and the media at his events had taken on a more sinister turn. Outside the general admission door for the event at the concert venue in the Cedars, there was a sign banning press from interacting with attendees. The media, as is still the case at Trump events, was officially restricted to a press holding pen, creating a distinct us vs. them vibe.

May 4, 2018
Venue: Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center
Co-stars: Vice President Mike Pence, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and a country band covering "Baby Got Back"
What we wrote:

"Those expecting President Donald Trump to make news during his speech Friday afternoon at the NRA's annual convention came away disappointed. Trump didn't unveil any new policies, aside from a sarcastic comment that banning guns makes as much sense as banning vans or trucks. He didn't say the name Stormy Daniels, and talk of Russia or potential collusion was limited to a brief aside about his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
What we think about it now:

At no point during any of Trump's visits to North Texas over the last four years was the dual-reality vibe that accompanies his traveling circus starker than during the president's address to the NRA. Outside the convention center, Trump was under siege, thanks to the ongoing investigation of his campaign by special counsel Robert Mueller and the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Inside, he was a conquering hero, a president coming to celebrate with the NRA rather than lamenting the group's effects on American society.

Tonight, when Trump takes the stage in Victory Park, a similar vibe should be on offer. The president is embattled — over Ukraine, over his decision to leave the Kurds exposed along the Syrian/Turkish border and over an impeachment inquiry that seems to be picking up speed in the U.S. House. Inside the arena, however, he'll be with his people, all of whom will be ready and willing to listen to whatever story he wants to spin.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young