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Trump gets huge applause in Greensboro — but not all Republicans are fully on board

Donald Trump told his supporters to prepare for "the final battle" in 2024.
Steve Harrison
Donald Trump told his supporters to prepare for "the final battle" in 2024.

For the last eight years, former President Donald Trump has spoken many times in North Carolina.

None was quite like Saturday night at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro at the North Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention.

Until last week, no ex-president had been indicted in federal court.

How would Trump address the indictment? And how would his supporters react?

Dave Bragg and his wife Dee, from Dare County, were at the dinner, both wearing Trump lanyards. Dee wore a large silver medallion of an elephant and a button for Mark Robinson, who is running for governor.

David and Dee Bragg are sticking with Donald Trump.
Steve Harrison/WFAE
David and Dee Bragg are sticking with Donald Trump.

When asked if they were still supporting Trump in the primary, Dave said, “I will say, is the pope Catholic?”

On the recent indictment, Dee said she thought it was “a little bit of B.S. and that Attorney General Merrick Garland was overextending.”

Dave Bragg added: “My viewpoint is equal charges under the law. Hillary Clinton did far worse. She was not the president. She did not have the authority to declassify anything, nor take anything out of the White House.”

That theory — that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden also mishandled classified documents, and weren’t punished for it — was common among attendees. The Braggs’ concerns were echoed by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which called the Trump indictment dangerous.

The FBI found that Clinton had 113 emails with classified information among the more than 30,000 she had on a private server from when she was secretary of state.

A special counsel is still investigating Biden for having classified material at his home and at the Penn Biden Center from when he was vice president.

In both cases, however, White House and Biden attorneys found and turned over the documents.

In addition, Trump is accused of deliberately hiding classified documents, as well as showing documents about military operations to people who shouldn’t have seen them.

Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr, told Fox News on Sunday that the indictment is “very damning” and that Trump is ”toast” if even half of it is true.

GOP delegate Dave Blaney, of Stanly County, isn’t personally bothered by the accusations against Trump in the federal indictment.

“I think the general consensus is that the indictment is noise,” he said. “Listen, indictments are not convictions, period.”

But he is worried that the ex-president has too much baggage.

“I have questions about Trump,” he said. “You know, I like his track record, but I’m not sure I want to sign up for round two. There’s way more folks that are 100% in Trump’s corner than guys like me who are willing to listen to other possibilities.”

That seemed like most people in the ballroom during Trump’s speech, which lasted more than 90 minutes. It took Trump 12 minutes to directly address the indictment, which he said is the work of “sick people.”

“The baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration's weaponized department of injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country,” Trump said.

Trump then switched to mocking his legal troubles.

He talked about being an alum of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

“Can you imagine? I wonder if they are proud of me?” he mused. “I got indicted! Oh, I wonder if they are saying, 'Oh that is wonderful.'”

The biggest applause for Trump came after he talked about how critical race theory should not be taught in schools, and that transgender girls should not be able to compete in girls sports.

Trump seemed amused.

“It’s amazing how strong people feel about that. You talk about people cutting taxes people go like that,” he said, imitating a low-energy clap.

“I talk about transgender and everyone goes crazy. Who knew? Five years ago you didn’t know what the hell it was!”

He closed the night on a dark note.

“This is the final battle,” he told the convention. “With you at my side we will demolish the Deep State. We will expel the warmongers from our government. We will drive out the globalists, we will cast out the communists, we will throw off the sick political class that hates our country.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke the night before, on Friday,

He said he would have been quickly court martialed had he taken classified documents while in the Navy, which was an obvious dig at Trump. Then he pivoted with an appeal to Trump voters.

“I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country,” DeSantis said. “Let’s enforce it on everybody, and make sure we all know the rules.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke Saturday afternoon, criticized Trump over the 2021 capitol riots. As for the indictment? He said he was deeply troubled by it.

“In America it’s important to remember that you are innocent until you are proven guilty,” Pence said.

Kendall Lunsford, of Mooresville, said she’s still sticking with Trump, regardless of what happens with the indictment.

“I think there is a sense of loyalty that (Trump) was supposed to finish, and he needs to finish before somebody else steps in,” she said about DeSantis and Pence.

Gaston County state House member Donnie Loftis, who attended the convention, said big applause for the former president doesn’t mean everyone clapping will vote for Trump in the March primary.

“There are very loyal people tonight for Donald Trump,” he said. “We all wanted him to succeed in the first term. But with the baggage out there now, with two indictments and two impeachments, can he recover and be an effective leader from the front instead of always trying to fight back some wildfire?”

While some convention delegates may be looking around, it’s clear they are united in their conservatism.

On Saturday afternoon, at least two-thirds of attendees voted to censure Republican state Sen. Thom Tillis for working with Democrats on issues such as supporting legislation this year that would codify same-sex marriage and gun control measures.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.