The Trump of Waco, Texas Is Very Different From the Trump Who Came Down the Escalator in 2015

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

At a rally in Waco, Texas, former president Donald Trump spoke to thousands of fans about what he believes are the biggest issues of the day.

If you were to pay attention to the news cycles and the American people’s biggest concerns, you might think Trump spent hours talking about persistent inflation, a minor financial crisis, border security, the fentanyl epidemic, China, Russia, energy independence, etc. None of that really seemed to be on Trump’s agenda Saturday night, however.


Instead, what we got was an airing of grievances from the former president. It was a rally focused on his personal enemies – the Department of Justice, Ron DeSantis, Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, and others. It was a rally that elevated what has long been central to Trump’s post-2020 rhetoric: He is the victim, and the American people should rally to his plight.

To be fair, there is a segment of the Republican base that will sympathize with Trump, and those who may have been fans but were on the fence about him as the GOP nominee in 2024 have decided that the persecution must stop and that he must be the nominee to put an end to the weaponization of the justice system against him. I’m not sure that it’s going to move the needle in Trump’s direction as much as others are, but it will probably be a factor.

Donald Trump
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

But the winning strategy for Trump in 2016 was not making it all about himself. It was about the American people. Many people voted for Trump because Hillary Clinton represented more of the same misery that they had received under Barack Obama. Trump effectively made the case that he was not like them because he wasn’t pretending to be something he wasn’t. He was a rich American who knew the system was stacked against the American people because he used that system to stay ahead.


He was able to secure the Republican base because he talked about the issues of the moment for them. Immigration, corruption in the system, and other subjects all resonated well with the GOP base. But that wasn’t the message that was presented to his supporters last night, and while his supporters may be eating that message up, the messages heard by those around the country who are hearing about it after the fact is not one that may resonate with them.

Sure, Trump is dealing with a lot of personal stuff right now – like a potential indictment in New York (that suddenly may or may not be happening?) – and his biggest threat from the right is a governor who is arguably the most successful politician in the country right now. Combine that with a willingness for more conservatives in government and in the punditry world to call Trump out for his childish insults of a fellow Republican and his inability to focus on the real issues facing the country, and you’ve got a man who feels threatened.


When Trump came down that elevator in 2015, he represented something completely different, and, against all odds, enough people found it appealing enough (or not as horrific as the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president) that they supported it. But Trump was careful to make 2016 about the American people. In 2020, Trump was attacking every single opponent (real and perceived) and had no coherent message, which led to people tiring of his act and choosing someone else.

In 2024, I get the feeling more people would do the same if Trump continues on his personal vendetta tour. This campaign is not about the plight of the American people, but the plight of Donald Trump. That has a much more limited audience.

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