Republican candidates don’t usually spend the months leading up to an election campaigning in Texas, nor do they explicitly reach out to African American voters with a “what have you got to lose” message. Donald Trump has done both.
With the general campaign season under full swing, Texas voters were offered a rare chance to participate in the presidential campaign as the Republican nominee made a couple pit stops in the state Tuesday.
While the majority of his time was spent in private meetings and fundraisers, Trump made a pitch for the presidency directly to Texans during a prime-time speech at Austin’s Luedecke Arena. For Texas voters the rally served as the first time in memory that a post-primary presidential candidate has bothered to campaign in the Lone Star State.
Since Texas turned reliably red, Republican presidential candidates have spent little time in the state to fire up the grassroots. Conventionally, candidates stop in Texas only to fundraise (which Trump did in Fort Worth) but save the voter-focused rallies for battleground states like Ohio and Florida.
Conventional wisdom would also say that if one were to hold a campaign event, the City of Austin (a place accurately described as the “blueberry in the tomato soup we call Texas” by former Gov. Rick Perry) would likely be the last place to pick.
But for those looking to describe the Republican nominee, few words would be more descriptive for Trump than unconventional. If nothing else, his appearance in Austin signals that Trump is willing to go where safe candidates too often refuse.
That sentiment was echoed by the majority of attendees, a good portion of whom came early to try and get a good spot.
“He just says what he thinks,” said one woman who entered the arena wearing one of the ubiquitous “Make America Great Again” hats.
“Aren’t you happy that Donald Trump is not politically correct?” asked one of Trump’s pump up speakers.
By the time the festivities began, the arena, which can fit approximately 9,500 people was roughly 90% full— “seven or eight thousand people” according to former New York City mayor Rudy Guliani who along with U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) rounded out the pump-up crew.
Taking the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” Trump began with a pitch to the home crowd.
“The people of Texas are proud, they’re independent, and they are free,” said Trump. “There is no better place to deliver the message I have tonight than right here, right in the middle of freedom.”
Speaking from a teleprompter, Trump then shifted to the main talking points of his campaign with a minor caveat. In addition to the traditional calls for “better deals” and stopping “Crooked Hillary,” Trump also doubled down on a renewed focus on criminal justice reform and appeal for African American voters.
“I want every African American parent in this country and all parents in this country to be able to raise their children in safety,” said Trump.
Citing increases in food stamps and incarceration rates of black Americans under Obama’s presidency, Trump appealed directly to them and asked for their vote—specifically “what have you got to lose?”
“To the African American community, give Donald Trump a chance,” Trump pleaded. “We will turn it around so that when you walk down the street you won’t get shot, which is happening now. It’s happening now.”
Shifting to the topic of border security amidst chants of “build the wall,” Trump reminded the crowd of his assertion that Mexico will pay for it and pushed a plan for increased tariffs on American companies that manufacture goods overseas.
Trump then invited members the Remembrance Project, a group of mothers whose children were slain by illegal immigrants, to the stage. The women, many of them legal immigrants to this country, shared the stories of their children’s deaths and encouraged attendees to vote for him before being interrupted by another protester that had to be escorted out by a security officer.
“What are you going to do?” sighed an exasperated Trump as the sixth protester of the evening was removed.
In the roughly hour long speech, at least a dozen attendees had to be escorted out for causing disruptions.
“Friends, citizens, Americans we will make American great again,” promised Trump as he exited the stage.