This year’s convention highlights the challenge facing the 2024 Republican field a year after Roe’s coup, a decision that emboldened the Democratic Party just months before the midterm elections. Democrats have accepted the GOP’s talk of a national ban, while some Republicans have cautioned against its potential to turn away voters in the general election.
But at the first major gathering of 2024 presidential contenders, with the former president in attendance, one thing was clear: Trump still has a tight grip on evangelical voters.
He was the highlight of the show, being greeted enthusiastically during almost the entire duration of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” when he took the stage. His rambling speech lasted an hour and a half, echoing chants of “USA” and “We love Trump” from the crowd, while his GOP rivals were bound by a strict time limit of five to 15 minutes. At one point, as the crowd erupted in cheers and applause, Trump turned to Faith & Freedom founder and president Ralph Reed and asked if his 2024 rivals had received a similar response.
The speech also offered a preview of what Americans will continue to hear from the former president as he vie for a second chance at the nation’s highest office. He went far beyond abortion, touching on his base-ralling biggest hits from border issues to transgender issues to election security. He once again expressed grievances about the defeat in the 2020 election, but continued to claim that it had been “rigged”. His speech was based on foreign policy, but he did not focus exclusively on current events in Russia.
He also spoke at length about his indictment on charges related to his handling of classified national security records, characterizing it as political harassment.
Trump joked, “He’s probably the only president ever to be indicted and my numbers go up.”
“Every time radical leftist democrats, marxists, communists, fascists accuse me I consider it a great sign of courage. I’m to blame for you, and I believe you are more than 200 million people who love our country,” Trump said.
When Trump talked about the indictment, a woman in the crowd shook her head and said, “Horrible. That’s ridiculous.” The man on his right nodded.
He was hard to spot in the cheering crowd, but not everyone in attendance was a die-hard Trump fan. Republican Bill Mohr, contesting from Virginia’s 7th district, said he was most impressed by Vivek Ramaswamy in the last two days. He likes Trump, but said he wishes he were more policy-focused and disciplined in his messaging.
“I think the DAs who are accusing him – I think they’re going to get him re-elected. And I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Mohr said.
“If he goes back on policies, builds a better team of people around him, that could be a really good thing. But I wish to God that he speaks with a positive message. Because Make America Great Again says that America is not great today. And America is great today,” he said.
Another woman, Darla Williams, raised her phone to record portions of Trump’s speech. She had come from Georgia for the convention and to hear the former president speak.
Williams, a Trump supporter, said she has no problem linking her faith to any criticism of Trump’s morality. She said the former president has some flaws, but is a “true Christian at heart” and spoke out to his supporters on abortion issues.
“He said he would do it, and he did. This is the only thing that I like. You’ll find a lot of people who will say things, but when they say they’ll do it, they do it,” he said.
Williams said she doesn’t think Trump should pledge to support a 15-week national abortion ban, warning that it could only hurt him. She said she’s heard a lot from Trump on the issue and knows where he stands and what he’ll do if he’s elected president again.
Zachary Shire, 20, who traveled from Pittsburgh as part of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, agreed, saying simply that “it’s too early” in the race. Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap, she said she believes life begins at conception and is in favor of a national ban. But he does not think that Trump should go there now.
“His popularity right now after the indictment and all the recent news is very high, he’s starting to attract a lot of Hispanic votes and a lot of minority votes,” Scherrer said. “I think if he makes too many extreme or radical proposals or speeches, he could potentially lose the voters he got.”