Thursday night, in as much trouble as he's been since his inauguration, President Donald Trump returned to Dallas' American Airlines Center a little more than four years after his first visit to the place that Ron Kirk built. On a day when his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, essentially admitted that his boss sought a quid pro quo with the Ukrainian government to further his political prospects, Trump needed a soft landing spot. The crowd of 20,000 or so didn't disappoint. The president, too, met expectations
Before the president's late arrival, and after First Baptist Dallas' Robert Jeffress led the still-arriving crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, the president's two Lone Star warmup acts, Sen. John Cornyn and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, took to the theater-in-the-round setup intended for the commander in chief.
Cornyn laid credit for Texas' flourishing economy at Trump's feet and told the red-hatted crowd that the last two years have been some of his most productive in the Senate, thanks to Trump appointing more than 150 judges to the federal bench.
"The conservative transformation of the federal judiciary will be the lasting legacy of the Trump administration," Cornyn said, after lambasting the media for its treatment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
This much must be said for Patrick: He's an ideal opening act for the president. He's got the whole Texas pride thing down — despite, as it's always worth noting, being from Maryland. He's appropriately obsequious to Trump and his accomplishments. And, perhaps most of all, he traffics easily in crypto-facist rhetoric, the president's love language.
"They have no idea what's coming a little over a year from now," Patrick said, gesturing at the press pen. "We in Texas will not stand by quietly, idly, as the big government left and their communist policies take our country away from us."
The 2016 presidential contest between Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasn't an election, Patrick said.
"We did not have an election in 2016, we had a revolt. This is what the media doesn't understand. The revolution is only getting louder and larger," Patrick said, before leading the cloud in a U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A chant.
Finally, after a long, loud musical interlude — shout out to the fully MAGA-bedecked man singing along to Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" — the man the crowd had all been waiting for arrived, via motorcade, from Love Field.
Trump took the stage 35 minutes late, Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" blasting over the sound system. The crowd gave him a deafening ovation. Then Trump and the crowd slipped into a fever dream.
Here, verbatim, are several things President Trump said during his speech, just to get you in the appropriate mood:
"The more America achieves, the more hateful and enraged these crazy Democrats become," Trump said.
"Right, they are crazy."
"They are crazy. At stake in this fight is the survival of American democracy itself. Don't kid yourself. That's what they want. They are destroying this country. We will never let that happen. Not even close. For three straight years, radical Democrats have been trying to overthrow the outcome of a great, great election. Maybe, maybe the greatest election in the history of our country."
"They are not going to win (the 2020 election). They say, 'Let's see. What's another idea? What's another idea? How do we win this election?' You know, I really don't believe anymore that they love our country," Trump said.
"Crazy Nancy. Crazy Nancy. Thank you. She is crazy.
"Shifty Schiff. How about this guy?
"He makes up my conversation, which was perfect. He makes up my conversation. He sees what I said. It doesn't play well because it was perfect. He made up a totally false conversation with the Ukrainian president."
"They want to tear down symbols of faith and drive Christians and religious believers from the public square. They want to silence your voices on social media. They want the government to shut down and censor conservative voices. You know that.
"If they didn't hate our country, they wouldn't be doing this. They know better. They know better. As an example, we are building a great wall along the southern border. It's going up rapidly. It's going up," Trump said.
"The do-nothing Democrats believe anyone who opposes them has to be crushed. They don't want you to just beat them. These are sick people. They want to crush these people. The anger, the hatred. Any lie or crime or corruption is justified. So Schiff makes up the statement. He says, we did not speak to the whistleblower. The whistleblower got it all wrong. Who is the whistleblower? Who is the whistleblower? We have to know. Is the whistleblower a spy? All he had to do was look at the tape or what they wrote down to — the transcribed version of the phone call. Compare that to the whistleblower's account. You see it had nothing to do with it. Why does the IG allow a thing like this to happen to our country? Why? A lot of bad people out there. One by one, we are advancing. One by one. Just look at the terrible, foreign corruption of the Bidens. I hate to talk about him, you know why? I don't think the guy's got a chance. Sleepy Joe. I don't see it. I don't know, I have these great, brilliant senators over here. I don't think he has a chance. I'd like him to. I'd like him to. I thought Pocahontas was gone, left in embers. You got to give her credit, though. Those embers now, they've kept going, going, going and now it looks like she's doing better. I don't think Joe has a chance. Did you see the other night, CNN, in a totally unsubstantiated statement, the president said this. We are so sorry. His son walked out with $1.5 billion from China. These were not the same Chinese people I just dealt with. Joe Biden was in charge of Ukraine policy while his son, with no energy experience, got thrown out of the Navy like a dog. Was paid massive sums of money by Ukrainian energy company. It is called a payoff, folks. He didn't know energy at all. They hired him, paying him massive amounts of money. Much more than the $50,000 a month you have heard of. That is a lot. Joe Biden made him go out and fire the prosecutor on tape. I had to put it up in a social media site. He was bragging. They are not going to get this money. They got rid of the prosecutor. He was investigating the son of the son's company. That is what they call quid pro quo," Trump said.
Here's a readable summary of the Biden-Ukraine story, if you need one.
It was remarkable. Seriously, just look at C-SPAN's transcript.
As the president went on, he mocked Texas' leadership for asking for too much aid after Hurricane Harvey. He shouted out Louie Gohmert for being one of the 60 members of the U.S. House who refused to join a huge, bipartisan majority condemning Trump for abandoning Kurdish rebels along the Turkish-Syrian border.
He celebrated Rick Perry's time at the Department of Energy, announcing that the former Texas governor will be leaving his post at the end of the year.
Trump then did his best to memory-hole the last couple of weeks of his administration's foreign policy, telling the crowd that the new cease-fire between Turkey and the Kurds the U.S. government abandoned is the best thing for all parties.
Later, he ticked off all the states he won in the 2016 election, saying that it would've been easier if he'd only had to win the popular vote.
"I would've gone to like four states," he said.
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The crowd, as they did throughout the night, lavished the president with applause.
Trump's speeches have a momentum, a cadence. They meander, stop for looks at familiar spots, and deluge anyone paying attention. By sheer volume, they're almost impossible to pick apart or absorb.
One finds oneself, an hour or more into one of Trump's stemwinders, watching people laud Trump's declaration that he refused to do debate prep during the 2015-16 Republican primaries like he'd announced there were keys to a new car under their seats. They cheer the president's jokes about never leaving office and boo the media and President Obama as if they were Bucky Dent in Boston. It doesn't seem weird, because Trump called and the crowd is responding, just as they've learned to do, whether it's their first Trump rally or their 10th.
Supporting Trump means that you are part of a show. Thursday night, Dallas played its part.