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Trump picks Waco, Texas, to kick off his 2024 presidential campaign

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former President Trump holds his first campaign rally of the year tomorrow in Waco, Texas.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Waco, near the site of a standoff in the 1990s. Federal law enforcement confronted an anti-government cult 30 years ago. Eighty-six people died at the Branch Davidian compound. Trump's campaign dismissed any connection with extremists, saying the site was chosen because it is close to Texas population centers - about a hundred miles from Dallas, hundred miles from Austin, so Texas close.

FADEL: For more on the rally, we're joined by Jason Whitely, senior political reporter at WFAA in Dallas. Good morning, Jason.

JASON WHITELY: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's talk about the symbolism of Waco. I mean, it's not going unnoticed that Trump chose to kick off his campaign near a place that represents, for many far-right groups, government violence and overreach, right?

WHITELY: Yeah, no doubt there is symbolism, you know? Thirty years ago, as Steve just mentioned, just outside Waco is really where the modern-day radical right was born here in this country after that federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound. But, you know, was that the reason for the Trump campaign selecting Waco? The campaign denies it. Look; in Texas, Republicans here have never held up what happened to David Koresh and his followers as some kind of rallying cry. Trump still needs those traditional Republicans in Texas to vote for him. And there are lots of them, believe it or not, still here.

FADEL: Now, organizers are expecting 15,000 people to attend. Do you think he'll draw that kind of a crowd?

WHITELY: Leila, that's something I'm really going to be watching for tomorrow night. Fifteen thousand is about the size of the NBA arena in Dallas. I remember during the 2016 campaign, Trump did not fill that completely. I'll say this, it's more difficult to determine the attendance of people standing in an airplane hangar than it is a large venue with seats where you know exactly how many there are. And the Trump campaign has always been very sensitive to reports of how many people attend his events.

FADEL: Yeah. Now, Trump is the Republican frontrunner in Texas. Does he still have the support of GOP leaders there?

WHITELY: Well, this is interesting because I've been asking this question the last six months or so to lawmakers that I've talked to. The governor here, Greg Abbott, has said that he will support the Republican nominee, whomever that is. Other state leaders, all Republican, have said the same thing. The Texas lieutenant governor, his name is Dan Patrick. He's very popular on the right. He's the only one that I've spoken with who, without hesitation, has said that he will support Donald Trump. Now, Patrick did chair Trump's campaign here in 2016 and in 2020. One other note about tomorrow's visit, a few other notable Republicans, members of Congress, told us that their schedule prevents them from attending Donald Trump's event tomorrow night. Read into that what you may.

FADEL: Interesting. Now, Texas has trended toward Democrats in recent elections. But how blue is it, really?

WHITELY: Well, Democrats like to say Texas is not a red state, it's a non-voting state. And they're right in a sense there. Seventeen million registered voters are in Texas. That's a little more than half of the population of 30 million here. But less than half of the 17 million registered voters, about 45%, cast ballots during last November's midterm election. You know, Republicans have had a majority control in Texas the last two decades. It has gotten harder, not easier, to vote in this state in recent years. But when it comes to choosing president, Democrats have been closing the gap every year. Trump defeated Joe Biden here, but it was by the smallest margin in years for Republicans. That said, though, the last time Texas elected a Democrat was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

FADEL: That's Jason Whitely, senior political reporter at WFAA in Dallas. Thanks for being here, Jason.

WHITELY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Jason Whitely