Trump’s Texas: ‘I can’t think of anybody I would rather have as president’

Trump supporters who attended the Capitol riots have been galvanised into further political action

Paul Davis answered the call from Donald Trump to his supporters to go to Washington on January 6th, 2021, the day the US presidential election votes were to be certified by Congress.

The decision would have profound professional and personal consequences for the lawyer from Frisco, a suburb north of Dallas. Davis was fired from his job as internal counsel in an insurance company and his relationship broke up. He did not enter the Capitol with the hundreds of rioters who attacked police and vandalised the building after Trump’s rally, but was seen in video footage outside.

He tells The Irish Times that his employers terminated his job the next day and that, in effect, he was subsequently “blackballed by the legal profession”. He says the FBI also came knocking on his door. He has never been charged. Plans for his wedding, scheduled for last May, fell apart. He says his fiancee could not handle all the attention, that she had wanted to marry a successful lawyer, and in the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol that did not seem likely to happen.

Davis says he had previously been to a Trump rally when the former president visited Dallas. Fascinated by politics since childhood, he had not been actively involved other than “as a keyboard warrior arguing with his former law school classmates”.

The turning point for him was election night in November 2020. He was concerned about the number of people who voted by mail, which he maintains does not have the same level of security as voting in person. He believes the theories promoted by Trump that the result of the election was determined by various nefarious practices.

Davis says it was suspicious that counting in big Democrat cities all stopped on election night at about the same time. He points to affidavits filed by some election personnel that irregularities took place and highlights videos and assertions purporting that after Republican poll watchers went home in one centre due to an alleged water leak, boxes of ballots were produced from under tables.

All these claims have been strongly refuted and none have been successful in court challenges. But Davis argues that many legal cases brought by Trump advocates were dismissed by courts “on procedural BS grounds”.

Davis still supports Trump and believes he should run again in 2024. “If there was an election held today I would vote for [him for] president for sure. I can’t think of anybody I would rather have.”

The lawyer says he was attracted to Trump by his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” and tackle corruption in Washington. He contends that the federal government is out of control and is not run by elected officials but by an administrative state.

“They do whatever they want – [there is] no accountability to the people.”

Davis is among a group of Trump supporters who, in the aftermath of the 2020 election and the violence of January 6th, have not stepped back from politics. Rather, they have moved on to embrace other causes – many of which have gained traction on the American right.

In the new legal practice he established after being fired by the insurance company, Davis says he is now “helping people who do not want to accept the Covid-19 vaccines”. Where people lose their job for not following vaccine mandates, he says he works to secure them a vaccine exemption, reinstatement or a settlement for unlawful termination. He says he is also involved in “rescuing” people in hospital with Covid-19, who he claims are being treated with the anti-viral medication Remdesivir against their will.

He is also pursuing cases on foot of a new law in Texas which he says prohibits social media companies from censoring free speech. "If you are a citizen in Texas you can actually bring a private lawsuit to enjoin the social media company and get fines against them if they try to censor you."

'Even ones who loved Trump and loved what he did for this country, I am not sure they would support him again as a presidential candidate'

Davis describes as "preposterous" claims by Democrats that the riot in Washington by Trump supporters represented an attempted coup. He is a "huge fan" of the podcast run by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, "If you listen to that show, everybody is saying they wanted the January 6th procedure [to certify the state election results] to go forward and produce evidence etc" of alleged irregularities. He argues that it was actually counter-productive for the Trump cause that the certification process was interrupted by the violence.

The Texas lawyer embraces the theory proclaimed by some on the right that the riot was orchestrated by others to make Trump look bad. He raises the conspiracy theory about one individual seen on several videos urging people to go into the Capitol building but who has not been arrested. The contention on the right is that the man was connected in some way to government agencies.

“There was a small group of individuals that broke the outer barricades and they were a small minority. They were either FBI assets, agents or informants.

“It was a false flag event to demonise patriots and Trump supporters and provide an excuse to persecute them and also to interrupt the plan to put in the evidence in the January 6th proceedings.”

Official figures released last month show that more than 700 people have been arrested, with about 165 pleading guilty and 70 sentenced, on foot of the Capitol riots.

At the University of Texas, Austin, the director of the Texas Politics Project in the department of government, Jim Henson, says Trump remains a very popular figure among conservatives in the state. The former president, Henson says, remains a “tone setter” for Republicans and has put his thumb on the scales to influence the outcome of a number of elections due in the coming months, backing particular candidates and encouraging challenges to some of his political enemies.

The extent to which Trump's false claims about a stolen election have chimed with Texans can be seen in the results of a poll released by the Texas Politics Project last Monday. It found that only 53 per cent of people in the state overall believe Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. Among Republicans in Texas, 67 per cent disagree that Joe Biden was the rightful winner.

At the far fringes of the Trump supporters are the QAnon theorists who have bought into the idea that the son of former president John F Kennedy – John jnr, who died in 1999 – is alive and has actually been in hiding since then. Hundreds lined Dealey Plaza in Dallas last November – where Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 – waiting for JFK jnr to reveal himself and join forces with Trump as his running mate in the 2024 presidential election.

However, not all Texas conservatives believe Trump should run again. Fran Rhodes is the president of a grassroots organisation known as the True Texas Project. "I would guess there are still a lot of people within grassroots organisations in the United States who are still very big supporters of President Trump," she tells The Irish Times. "I think a lot of people would absolutely love him to run again but others probably would not. You would find people split on that.

“Even ones who loved Trump and loved what he did for this country, I am not sure they would support him again as a presidential candidate. It would have to depend on who else was running and a lot of other things.

“For me personally. I loved the things President Trump did for this country. But I think his time has come and gone.”

Rhodes maintains that there is “so much animus against him, unfair as it may have been ... but it is there and it will continue to be there. If he were to run for president and possibly win, it could do more harm than good in the long run because of the detractors who are out there trying to tear him down.”

Florida governor Ron DeSantis would be a very good candidate for the Republicans in 2024 if Trump does not run, noting that he has been leading the nation in terms of conservative policy.

“I know a lot of people think Texas is one of the conservative leaders. But Texas tends to follow Florida.”

Roderick Hart is a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin and author of the book Trump and Us. He says that when people use the phrases Trump voter or Trumper, “they call to mind 5-10 per cent of the people running around half-crazed and the media is saturated with them”.

'Republicans have a hard time talking about it, but when you push them a little bit harder with a libation or two, they say they have had it with Trump'

It would, he says, be hard for Trump to reassemble the coalition of voters who supported him in 2016 and 2020. For his research he was more interested in the views of the archetypal Methodist retired school teacher who had always voted for the Republican Party.

According to Hart, a lot of good Republicans are praying that Trump does not run “because they rightly think it would be very hard for him to win because he has generated so much animus during and particularly after his presidency”.

He considers that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell – who has criticised Trump over January 6th and who in turn has been repeatedly attacked by the former president – represents a much larger number of people than is acknowledged.

“Republicans have a hard time talking about it, but when you push them a little bit harder with a libation or two, they say they have had it with Trump. It is an embarrassment to the nation and to them. But it is hard for those people to speak up in public, but that is part of the Trump phenomenon.”

Texas has been a solidly Republican, conservative state for years. Ahead of elections this year, the second largest state in America has introduced legislation that will see it move even further to the right.

Voters in Texas will first have to decide – in what are known as primaries – which candidates will run for their party later this year for a number of key posts in the state, including governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general as well as for seats in Congress in Washington.

The current governor, Greg Abbott, is favourite to be re-elected but faces challengers running to his right.

Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is running for governor for the Democratic Party. No Democrat has won a state-wide election in Texas since 1994, so much of the focus has been on the battle between Republicans. Among the key issues for conservative voters in the state are immigration and security at the Mexican border, as well as property taxes.

Jim Henson, director of Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, Austin, says Abbott is running a well-funded campaign for re-election but faces strong criticism from vocal activists on the right.

The Abbott campaign, he says, predicted the challengers on his right flank and produced policies over the past 18 months to blunt their attack strategies.

These included a “draconian anti-abortion bill” and a further loosening of regulations surrounding the carrying of firearms.

Former president Donald Trump carried Texas by a comfortable six-point margin in 2020 – but even though he won, he has called for an audit into the election to be carried out.

'He basically operated like a king or dictator, with all the decisions made by him or his office'

Last year Texas, along with a number of other states with Republican majorities, introduced new legislation which they asserted was aimed at tackling alleged election fraud and irregularities. Critics claim these measures are aimed at restricting voter turn-out. In addition to new requirements for voter identification, the Texas legislation also set out penalties for any ineligible person who registers to vote or casts a ballot.

On foot of the new legislation, as of last week election officials in the state's most populous county, which includes the city of Houston, said 40 per cent of roughly 3,600 returned ballots at that point had lacked the identification number required. In Williamson County, a populous northern suburb of Austin, the rejection rate was estimated by officials to be about 25 per cent in the first few days.

The grassroots conservative organisation True Texas Project has been strongly critical of Abbott’s record. Its president, Fran Rhodes, tells The Irish Times:

“During 2020 and the whole Covid situation, our governor basically shut down almost everything in the state, issued mask mandates and decided what business were essential and not essential – which had to close. And about three million people lost their jobs. Never once did he call the legislature into special session to allow them to weigh in on these issues. He made all the decisions entirely on his own.

“He basically operated like a king or dictator, with all the decisions made by him or his office.”

She suggests the top local issue for members of her organisation in the election is security at the Mexican border, citing thousands of illegals coming across every day.

Rhodes says property tax bills also keep going up. The tax is based on how much homes are worth; she says that property values have skyrocketed in the past 18 months or two years, raising property taxes.

She says another big issue for grassroots conservatives is to get legislation passed to ban gender transition procedures for children.

Winning Texas is hugely important in American politics. Its economy by GDP is the second largest in the country, with huge oil, gas, technology, defence and aerospace sectors.

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