by Joshua Fechter, The Texas Tribune.
DALLAS — Former President Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of the Jan. 6 insurrection — an attack that led to five deaths and cost millions of dollars in damages to the U.S. Capitol — during stops in Houston and Dallas this weekend.
“What happened on Jan. 6 was a protest against a rigged election, that’s what it was,” Trump said to cheers Sunday at American Airlines Center in Dallas. “This wasn’t an insurrection.”
During a four-stop tour with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly revisiting his presidency, Trump hammered on the false insistence that he, in fact, won the 2020 election — even after multiple failed legal attempts by Trump to challenge the election results and his own attorney general’s assurance that the election was accurate and secure.
In his remarks, Trump said he wished lawmakers had more protection during the Jan. 6 attack and that he asked for 10,000 National Guard troops to be present at the Capitol that day — a claim that has been debunked.
The former president made no mention of the revelation last week that several Fox News hosts implored his former chief of staff through text messages to urge Trump to call off the rioters.
Nearly a year out of office, Trump still looms large in Texas.
His nod is highly coveted among Texan Republican candidates eager to prove to primary voters they’re loyal to the former president. But Trump wasn’t here to stump for those he endorsed — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Trump’s obsession with spreading falsehoods about the election may have inspired state Republican lawmakers this year to pass the sweeping voting restrictions bill. He also directly pressured top GOP leaders, including Abbott, to pursue audits of local election results — even though Trump won Texas.
Trump’s remarks about the insurrection this weekend drew swift condemnation from Texas Democrats, who accused the former president of perpetrating the “big lie” that he won the election — not President Joe Biden.
“This is dangerous, and it is a poor reflection for America’s commitment to democracy for the rest of the world to see,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle.
Trump’s first stop on Sunday was at the First Baptist Dallas Church — headed by Robert Jeffress, one of Trump’s earliest supporters among evangelical Christian leaders and later an informal adviser to the president — to give what was billed as a “special Christmas greeting” to the congregation.
But Trump regularly veered into political territory in his 12-minute speech. The former president, who wanted to pull U.S. troops from combat in Afghanistan, blasted Biden’s withdrawal there as “the most embarrassing day in the history of our country.” He alluded to the country’s inflation crisis, rising violent crime and to problems at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I will say that there’s a lot of clouds hanging over our country right now, very dark clouds,” Trump said. “But we will come back bigger and better and stronger than ever before.”
Trump entered the church stage left at Jeffress’ side to a standing ovation, many congregants holding their phones aloft to get a snapshot of the former president.
As Trump sat in the front row, Jeffress called him a “great friend to me,” “one of my closest friends” and a “great friend of Christians everywhere.”
“I can say this without any dispute at all: He is the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-Israel president in the history of the United States of America,” Jeffress said.
Later Sunday afternoon, attendees — who paid up to $200 for admission — stood for more than an hour in the cold outside of the American Airlines Center to see Trump and O’Reilly. Lines stretched around the arena and onto adjacent blocks. Many wore classic Trump garb like hats with his slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Inside, large sections of the arena were filled, though there were many visibly empty seats — the number of which grew slightly throughout the event as some attendees trickled out after an intermission. Other sections were blocked off entirely.
During the Dallas show, Trump nodded at Abbott’s move to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border using state funds and private donations, though he didn’t mention the governor by name. He also shouted out Paxton’s lawsuits against major social media companies — a source of ire for the former president, still resentful that Twitter banned him from the platform in January.
Trump took a swipe at Abbott’s Democratic challenger — former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Two years ago, O’Rourke defended his support for a mandatory assault weapon buyback program in the wake of a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso that killed 23 people.
Trump predicted O’Rourke’s positions on gun policy would help Republicans keep Texas “bright, beautiful red.”
“He’s against guns, God and what else?” Trump said of O’Rourke. “How is he going to do in Texas? He should not be a problem.”
A spokesperson for the O’Rourke campaign did not immediately provide a response.