It was Donald Trump’s last rally of the 2016 presidential campaign at the DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. Trump did five rallies in five states that day and, by the time the candidate took the stage before a fervent crowd that had begun assembling at 9:30 a.m. and had come from as far as Chicago, it was past midnight and into Election Day
Trump was in rare form.
“It used to be the cars were made in Flint and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico,” he said. “Now, the cars are made in Mexico and you can’t drink the damn water in Flint.”
Mike Dominguez, who had come more than 1,000 miles from Austin to help Trump’s Michigan campaign in the final couple of weeks, took in the scene in wonder.
“Most people don’t sprint at the finish line, and I saw him sprinting at the finish line,” said Dominguez, a longtime Travis County GOP precinct chairman in North Austin.
Trump ultimately won Michigan by 10,704 votes, and, along with a few other slender victories in pivotal states, cobbled together what still reverberates as a shocking victory. On Friday, Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president, and Dominguez, who played his part in making it happen, will be there.
Four years ago, Dominguez said, he found himself in demand as a surrogate for his party’s standard-bearer, Mitt Romney.
“Nobody with my demographic,” said Dominguez, who is 35 and Hispanic, “would step on stage or stand in front of a camera for (Romney) anywhere in the country. They had only one person to call on and that was me.”
And, here in Democratic-leaning Austin, he said, “Everybody was hating on me.”
If anything, Austin is more hostile to Trump than to Romney, but this time, he said, his advocacy “was easier, because I had the Romney experience.”
Dominguez, who has a government consulting firm focusing on emerging technologies, growth and education, signed on as a Trump volunteer early in his campaign.
“I wanted to be known as one of his early adopters,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of it because I knew it was going to blow up.”
Seeing Trump’s potential in Michigan, Dominguez seized the job of Michigan state captain for the Mighty American Strike Force, which deploys Republican activists from red states like Texas to swing states where they can have more impact.
He arrived two weeks before Election Day, directing his small cadre of volunteers out of Detroit.
Dominguez found that the party’s state chairwoman, Ronna Romney McDaniel — Mitt Romney’s niece and Trump’s choice to chair the Republican National Committee — had organized the state “immaculately, like attention to detail that I had not seen before. It was the wisdom of a consultant and the purity of a grass-roots movement.”
But he thinks his presence gave the effort a psychological lift.
“Just showing up was the biggest thing. Hispanic. My age. From Texas,” Dominguez said. “The margin he won by wasn’t that many votes, and I was there.”
“Even as I stand up for him now people still think I’m crazy — `He’s not going to get anything passed. He doesn’t have governing experience,’” Dominguez said. “I hear it all, but I stand up for him to this day. I’m like, `No, he’s going to be awesome, he’s going to get his way, he’s going to open up a lot more doors than you realize. Time will tell.’”
Quieting Trump foes
Trey Trainor, an election law specialist in Austin, had backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for president. But when Trump thumped Cruz in the May 3 Indiana primary, Cruz quit the race and the path was cleared for Trump to claim the nomination.
“When the potential for them to win was really kind of evident I got a call: `Look we’re going to need some help at the convention on some legal matters. Can you help us out?’” Trainor recalled. It was Don McGahn, the prominent Washington attorney who was counsel for the Trump campaign.
It all came to a head the first night of the convention in Cleveland, as the Never Trump forces, who had been thwarted in committee, made a last-ditch effort on the floor to force a roll-call vote on unbinding delegates pledged to Trump.
To force a vote, they needed the signatures of the majority of delegates from seven delegations. They submitted petitions from nine states.
“It was at that point, once they put names on paper and submitted them, that it became real,” Trainor said.
For the next half hour, amid a spasm of chaos on the convention floor, as the chair stalled for time, Trainor and handful of other lawyers furiously vetted the signatures for flaws, concluding that three of the nine state’s petitions fell short. The roll call was denied. The stop-Trump effort had breathed its last.
As the general election approached, and it appeared to Trainor it might be close, his pulse quickened.
“I thought what a great time to be an election lawyer and a guy who does recounts. There’s potentially some work to be done here,” he said. “All right.”
And, as one state after another, on that very long election night, appeared impossibly close, Trainor thought, “I may have hit the jackpot. There may be a recount in several different places.”
But, to Trainor’s greater delight, Trump eked out the win, though Trainor did end up monitoring the abortive recount in Michigan.
Does Trainor think America will fare well under Trump?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I think America is going to be great again.”
“I think that we’re going to see it. I think we’re already seeing it,” he said. “You see what’s happening with companies moving back (to the United States). The Trump phenomenon or Trump effect is beginning to take place. A Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress should be able to make some definite moves that are going to help the economy and bring back jobs.”
And Trainor said Trump is not historically anomalous.
“If we look back in our history, there have been presidents like him,” he said. “Andrew Jackson was very much a bottom up movement.”
Trainor lives with his wife in Driftwood. They have six children, 12 and under, so he will be going to the inauguration solo.
Last spring, Wendy Tucker, the librarian at Hernandez Middle School in Round Rock, and Desiree Le, the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, began planning a field trip to Washington for the inauguration. On Monday, they will depart with 15 middle schoolers for six jam-packed days. There will be two days in Colonial Williamsburg and then on to Washington for bus tours of the city; visits to the Smithsonian museums, the monuments, Arlington National Cemetery; and a children’s inaugural ball.
On Inauguration Day, they will be rising at 4:30 a.m. to make their way from their hotel in Manassas, Va., about 30 miles from the Capitol.
When they planned the trip, they obviously didn’t know who would win.
“I still think it’s a good idea, regardless of who won,” Tucker said of their impending expedition. “It’s an historical moment and the kids can see history in action, and if they didn’t like the outcome, they can learn about our government and how to change things from the inside.”
“Nobody decided not to go,” she said.
First Washington visit
State Republican Party official Naomi Narvaiz of San Marcos is going to Washington to see Trump — and her son.
Her son, Jordan Carrier, is with the 3rd U.S. Infantry, known as “The Old Guard.” Formed in 1784, it is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army.
The Old Guard is the Army’s official ceremonial unit and escort to the president. It will be marching in the inaugural parade. The Old Guard also provides security in Washington in time of national emergency or civil disturbance.
Narvaiz will be staying her son for the inauguration. It is her first trip to Washington.
“I’m looking forward to being part of such a historical moment,” Narvaiz said. “I’m sure every presidential inaugural is amazing, but for me, about to be 50 and never been to Washington, D.C., wow.”
Zachary Hiroms, 25, voted for Trump, but is less a partisan than an obsessive observer of what for him and his friends had become a compelling, entertaining and often amusing reality show — The Making of the President 2016.
“This entire election, I was just watching to see how it played out. Once it started to narrow, it was more of a show than a presidential race. I had a lot of fun watching,” said Hiroms, who lives in North Austin and works for LegalZoom.
Hiroms doesn’t know if Trump will make a good president. He, like most, was surprised Trump was elected.
He followed the campaign as it unfolded moment by moment, how it ricocheted through social media. He tuned in to watch the Golden Globes for just that reason, and Meryl Streep, Trump, Twitter and Facebook did not disappoint.
When a friend who lives in D.C. invited him to visit for the inaugural, Hiroms said, “yes.”
“I’m a big history guy,” he said. “I thought, here is a moment. I know it’s going to be in the books one day.”
“I want to see how it ends,” he said. Or maybe how the news season begins.
Witness to history
“It started out as a joke with me and my buddies,” said Justin Whitaker of Cedar Park, a 20-year-old junior at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
But when he and his three fraternity brothers in Phi Gamma Delta found cheap air fares and an affordable hotel room they could split four ways, the four Trump voters decided to go to Washington to see their man inaugurated.
“This is the first presidential election, I’ve been able to vote in, and me and my friends, we have been paying attention to politics the last year and realizing that, `Wow, not too many people wind up doing this and so just to be able to say I was able to go to a presidential inauguration, it would be pretty cool, just kind of experiencing it first-hand.’”
There has not been too much detailed planning beyond that.
“We’re just going to show up and roll with it,” he said.
“Obama’s been president since seventh grade,” Whitaker said. “I don’t think he’s done anything bad, but I don’t think he did anything terribly good. He maintained. Kind of a rut. Now let’s grow.”
Whitaker, who is studying business, likes that Trump is a businessman.
“He’s gone bankrupt and become a billionaire again,” he said. “He doesn’t put up with nonsense.”
“Some people say he didn’t handle himself well, that he needs to be more calm and collected,” Whitaker said. Maybe, but, on the other hand, Whitaker said, “He didn’t allow himself to be pushed around.”
“Another thing with Trump, Trump is very patriotic, red, white and blue, stars and stripes,” Whitaker said. “I think that’s something we need again.”
A time for healing?
Elizabeth Berecin is a 22-year-old senior at Texas State University. She grew in Arlington. She is part Hispanic, Anglo and Taiwanese. She was the social media director for Students for Trump in Texas. And she is interested in holding public office someday.
Is there any particular office she has her sights on?
“Yes,” she said. “President.”
“Even if I don’t end up there,” said Berecin, who survived cancer as a teenager, “I don’t want to leave this Earth without having some kind of impact on a grand scale.”
From the time she attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as an invited guest, Berecin, with her background, confidence and Texas boots, proved catnip for reporters searching for a stereotype-busting Trumper, which made her a lightning rod for adulation and abuse.
“People say mean and hateful things,” she said. For a while, she said, “I had to put all my social media accounts on private. People wrote I was going to get deported because I’m Mexican. To me that’s just plain ignorant. My grandpa was born here.”
In fact, she said it was her Mexican-American, blue dog Democrat grandfather, who grew up in East Austin, who was for Trump before she was.
“I see a lot of the marginalization of Trump supporters, and that even drew me more toward Trump,” she said. “I’m not a racist, I’m not a bigot, I’m not homophobic. I’m not a misogynist. But people think you voted for Trump you’re all those things.”
“I think he’s the best thing for the economy,” Berecin said. “His message resonates. He’s very smart, very, very smart, and he connects with people in a way that other candidates could not, the same way Obama did with minority voters, with his change message, this renewed spirit.”
She is disheartened by the continued post-election acrimony.
On election night, she prepared a Students for Trump email if things didn’t go Trump’s way.
“I wrote the `Love y’all but we lost’ email,” she said. “We were prepared to lose gracefully. I don’t even think they (Clinton supporters) thought they could lose so when they did, it was inconceivable. They acted like the world was falling apart.”
“All the polls were dead wrong,” she said. “I would attribute that to people being afraid, people being afraid to admit they were for Trump, being afraid to tell a pollster they were for Trump, afraid of being demonized, called a racist, good people being called bad, terrible things.”
Berecin hopes the inauguration is a time for healing, for coming together.
“I’m holding out the olive branch,” Berecin said. But somebody, she said, has to be willing to receive it.
Inauguration commemorative section Jan. 21
Get Saturday’s American-Statesman for a commemorative special section featuring coverage of Friday’s presidential inauguration.