Trump Declares Himself a ‘Nationalist’ in 90-minute Houston Tirade

In what was ostensibly a rally for Ted Cruz, the president unleashed a conspiracy-laden war cry for American nihilism.

A Trump supporter holds a sign reading “Jobs vs. Mobs.”  Gus Bova

Heading into November, Trump is doubling down on revanchist nationalism to rile up and turn out his base — and Ted Cruz and Texas’ top Republican politicians are willingly tagging along for the ride.

At a Houston rally of about 16,000 people on Monday, Trump delivered a nearly-90 minute monologue, an amalgamation of incoherent ramblings, political slogans and rhetorical fire-breathing during which he unleashed a barrage of attacks on his enemies — from Elizabeth Warren and Maxine Waters to China and the globalists. He declared himself a “nationalist” and called for a drastic overhaul of the current American immigration system, which he portrayed as a threat to the country’s very existence while painting the caravan of Honduran asylum-seekers as a Democratic political ploy.

Trump did one of his “enemy of the people” acts tonight, accusing his opponents and critics, in this case Democrats, of essentially being traitors to their country. Democrats, he warned, are a threat to his supporters’ (“your”) security — as he told it, they want open borders so illegal immigrants can flood into your country, take your jobs, hurt your families and illegally vote in your elections.

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Trump supporters chant "lock her up."
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Trump takes the stage.
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Trump supporters give thumbs down to media at Trump's urging.
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Trump and Cruz have a brief tête-à-tête at the MAGA rally in Houston in October.
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Cruz makes his re-election appeal.
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A potential Trump imitator at Trump rally.
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Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick fires up the crowd.
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Texas' senior Senator John Cornyn
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A Trump supporter holds a sign reading "Jobs vs. Mobs."
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Governor Greg Abbott soaks in applause at a Trump rally in Houston.
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Trump supporters chant Trump's name repeatedly.
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Trump supporter calls a TV reporter "fake news."
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Crowd of Trump supporters
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Two Trump supporters, one with a custom-ordered shirt
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A public schoolteacher protests Trump rally for Cruz.
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Dan Patrick and Lara Trump
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Trump supporters file into Toyota Center.

“Democrats create mobs. Republicans create jobs,” Trump declared, unveiling a new slogan heading into the midterms.

The rally was supposed to be a public show of goodwill between Cruz and Trump in what has been a difficult reelection bid for the Texas senator. Of course, Trump is the same guy who insulted Heidi Cruz, coined the nickname “Lyin’ Ted” and suggested that Rafael Cruz, Ted’s father, was involved in the JFK assassination. But that was a long time ago! Tonight Trump dismissed any perception of bad blood, saying “no one has been more helpful” to his agenda than Cruz.

But Trump coming to Texas was never about the Republicans’ prospects in November. Not really. On the first day of early voting, it was a show of power. It was about sticking a finger in the eyes of Texas liberals riding on high on the hopes of Beto O’Rourke and a slate of competitive congressional races.

And it was an opportunity for Texas’ Republican leaders to remind the base that this is a war — and that Democrats can pry Texas from their cold, dead conservative hands. The message: Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Beto O’Rourke are audaciously trying to take power via Texas.

Inside, the crowd was raucous. Supporters held “Keep America Great,” “Finish the Wall” and “Women for Trump” signs. Governor Greg Abbott opened his speech with some (for him) rip-roaring Texas and American nationalism: “Isn’t it great to be with patriots who pray to God almighty and who would never take a knee for our national anthem?” He went on: Isn’t it great to have a president who likes the military, who does what he says he will, who appoints conservatives to the court?

And isn’t it great that Texas has such a big economy? It’s so big that Abbott is “more powerful than Putin” — a jingoistic stump line the governor loves to trot out. It drew deafening cheers in Houston.

Senator John Cornyn kept up the martial theme, comparing the Lone Star State to a critical firewall and Washington, D.C., to a forward operating base in hostile territory.  

“Why are we here?” Dan Patrick asked. “To tell Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats, we’re not turning Texas into California! Not on our watch!” His name, Patrick quipped, stands for Border Enforcement Totally Optional.

“You will never take [Texas values] away from us! We will never give up Texas! We have drawn a line in the sand and Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats will not cross it!” Patrick yelled and yelled like a stable man totally in control of his emotions.

Not to be outdone, Ted Cruz amped up his stump speech introduction.“Do we defend freedom or give into tyranny? Do we embrace jobs or do we give in to mobs?” Then he went on to cast his opponent as a tax-lovin’ radical. After a campaign filled with small crowds at BBQ restaurants, and perhaps not wanting to look like the beta to Trump’s alpha, he tried to match the energy of a raucous crowd. His nasally voice rose to near-primal screams as Canadian-born Cruz described how un-Texan Beto is.

In the end, Trump was… Trump. He delivered a long stemwinder, jumping from point to point while making sure to include all the greatest hits: Investigate Crooked Hillary, the terrible Fake News media and attacks on Elizabeth Warren.

He called O’Rourke a “stone-cold phony named Robert Francis” who “pretends to be a moderate but he’s a radical, open borders liberal.”

But something felt different. I haven’t watched his recent stump speeches, but the urgency and sense of foreboding felt stronger than usual. He warned about the horrors of globalism and declared himself an unabashed nationalist — damn the critics. His tirades about immigrants and Democrats felt more vitriolic. His attacks on opponents more vicious. His sense of accomplishment more righteous and impressive.

Perhaps it’s the rhetoric of a man who feels the walls closing in. Perhaps it’s the rhetoric of a man who has full control and doesn’t want to give any of it up.

Justin Miller is the politics reporter for the Observer. He previously covered politics and policy for The American Prospect in Washington, D.C., and has also written for The Intercept, The New Republic and In These Times. Follow him on Twitter or at [email protected].

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Published at 10:44 pm CST
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