In the art of the spiel, Texas Democrats can’t compete with Donald Trump

Good morning Austin:

I was originally scheduled to arrive at the Democratic State Convention in San Antonio on Thursday. But that was before Donald Trump scheduled a two-day swing through Texas, so Ken Herman and I went to Dallas for Trump’s rally at Gilley’s South Side Ballroom on Thursday, spent the night at a hotel in Temple and then made our way to San Antonio, arriving at the Alamodome a little before noon.

Since Trump became the presumptive nominee with his crushing victory over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the May 3 Indiana primary, Trump has worked overtime to see if he could put that nomination at risk, or at any rate, make it virtually worthless once he claimed it.

But, of course, Trump, like no presidential candidate in American history, has managed to perpetually succeed by doing one thing after another, after another, after another, that seemed dead certain to destroy him but somehow, some way, only made him stronger, or at least, strong enough.

But, that said, the last few weeks have been so bad for him that I thought he was well on his way to well and truly blowing it.

But then I went to Trump rally at Gilley’s, and he had packed house in his thrall, and he was ebullient – which, for a candidate, goes a long way to selling yourself – on what was the first anniversary of his improbable, only-in-a-really-strange-America, run for the White House.

Also, as in my previous experiences at Trump rallies, Trump crowds are more interesting – and, in that, more invigorating – than you might imagine..



Or, Lance Listander, who drove up from Austin with his girlfriend, drawn by Trump’s “dynamism.”




While Trump is being widely mocked and derided for running for president on the fly and by the seat of his pants, with virtually no staff or infrastructure, when it comes to the rallies, there is not much to improve upon. Play the same three-song set by the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Elton John, get some local schmoes to make some opening remarks, and then hand it over to Trump and let him do what he wants to do until he is done.

He had the 3,800 folks at Gilley’s in the palm of his hands, and even from the road reporter next to me, who probably has heard him a hundred times, he still drew intermittent, heartfelt chuckles.

In other words, he put on a good show.

At one point Trump said how he was going to make the Republican National Convention interesting – maybe have a night of sports stars – of winners – instead of boring politicians – losers.

Nonetheless, I arrived at the Alamodome thinking that, through no fault of their own and thanks entirely to Donald J. Trump, beleaguered Democrats had an opportunity for a modestly good year in 2016.

Trump had opened the door wide. All they had to do was walk through.

But, by the time I put my head to the pillow last night, I had my doubts.

Put simply, Democrats had a simple mission. Present themselves as a sane alternative to the party of Trump. Put their best foot forward. Present the party as actually looking like the state of Texas. Showcase their stars of tomorrow, the candidates who might actually win this year, and I suppose, make a credible argument that Hillary Clinton would really be missing out if she didn’t put Julián Castro on the ticket.

And do it crisply.

But, by the time they had finished the convention program Friday night – and this is the only night of the convention, which ends this afternoon – they had dissipated any sense I had that this was going to be their year.

Here was the program for last night’s festivities.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 7.09.41 AM


Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 7.08.30 AM

Lotta folks.

There were some nice moments.

But apparently the instructions were, take as much time as you like and feel free to repeat each other, because, the program fell an hour behind and what should have been Julián Castro’s prime tell fell to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, among the most insufferable members of Congress. (Don’t take my word for it. Google Sheila Jackson Lee, worst boss, boss from Hell, meanest member of Congress).

As an exiting delegate told me, she had already heard Jackson Lee deliver the speech at a big caucus earlier in the day. For most of the speakers, this was hardly their only opportunity to speak Friday.

As delegates continued to stream out, the convention planners seized control, brought Wendy Davis out to offer a modestly overlong and self-congratulatory introduction of Castro nine slots ahead of schedule so he could make the so-called keynote address.

Since Joaquin had opened the show and they are twins, Julián’s appearance seemed vaguely familiar, and while both Castros are enormously appealing characters, they are simply not commanding figures as public speakers.

Meanwhile, Trump’s simultaneous appearance Friday night at a rally in The Woodlands was, by all accounts, pulsing with mad energy.

OK. I hear what you’re saying. Hitler gave a good speech too. So did Huey Long. And George Wallace.

I also understand that just because the floor show got to be a bit tedious, that doesn’t mean that the convention, with 10,000 Democrats in the house, may not have been crackling with energy and excitement and useful networking at myriad caucus meetings and parties.

But Democrats had a bunch of reporters present and they blew a chance to show their stuff to best advantage. The big night of the convention was, in sum, enervating instead of energizing.

I also understand that I may have been cranky because, after a few bites of a blintz in Temple bright and early Friday, I could not find a morsel of food available in the Alamodome that one could avail oneself of without waiting in an endless line at one of the couple of concessions that were operating, before they ran out of food or closed.

I don’t get it. It was if the Alamodome is under some international sanctions regime.

The idea at places like this is to gouge people – I was happy to pay $7 for a coke and a bag of Cheez-Its at Gilley’s – not starve them.

Doesn’t anybody want to make money off Democrats?

Mayor Adler, couldn’t you have brought along some food trucks?

At one point I was tempted to grab a half-eaten apple out of a little girl’s hands.

I didn’t.

Here now, is a review of last night, through my eyes and that of other witnesses to history.


If you’re not speaking, you’re not in the hall

So I just left a couple of events at the Hyatt to cover some of the speeches in the Alamo Dome convention hall. It’s clear that most elected officials or Democratic power houses are not in the convention hall. Makes for a low energy session.

In other words, if you go to a Donald Trump rally, he revs you up and makes you feel like a winner. But, if you actually attended the one single night of the Texas Democratic State Convention, you were made to feel like a loser – like, why are you here and not over at the Hyatt, or somewhere else, anywhere else?

There were still signs on the floor and rhetoric form the stage plumping Castro for veep. But he had already let the air out of that tire.



Meanwhile …


Back at the Alamodome.

One of the better lines.

Back at The Woodlands.







The Woodlands.

Delegates making exodus from convention hall



Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 4.09.21 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 4.11.22 AM











Julian Castro gives keynote speech in front of handful of tired Democrats

“I still think the American dream is not a sprint or marathon, but a relay,” he said. “This isn’t just about the past. It’s about the future… We need everyone’s God-given talent to succeed.”

Castro, the former San Antonio mayor, criticized Republicans for being divisive and against average Americans. He went through a roll call of prominent, successful Democrats, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.

“Thanks to President Obama, America is poised for the future,” he said. “Barack Obama will go down as one of our nation’s finest presidents.”

Then he turned to Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

“Donald Trump will never be president of America,” he said.

He added: “A good president unites America to make progress together,…A good public servant serves the people, not himself.”

Castro, mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, said it was important to elect Hillary Clinton as president.

“Hillary has dedicated her life to fighting for fairness,” Castro said.

Castro began speaking shortly before 9  p.m., when most of the audience had left the arena.

The crowd received him warmly, albeit with little energy.

Castro took it in stride, calling Texas Democrats the “loudest, fiercest most determined Democrats in the country.”






Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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