Texans head to Washington to see Trump ‘cross the finish line’

January 19, 2017

January 19, 2017 6:09PM ET

By Katie Leslie The Dallas Morning News

Jan. 19–WASHINGTON — Kathleen Blakely and her husband drove two days from the Texas Hill Country to the nation’s capital to see Donald Trump’s inauguration.

And they didn’t even have tickets.

Blakely, a dental hygienist who lives in Boerne, outside San Antonio, said she was that excited to see her candidate take the oath of office. She was willing to stand with the masses but ultimately scored tickets this week from Congressman Lamar Smith’s office.

She was one of the lucky ones. Other lawmakers, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, received more than 1,500 requests for roughly 400 available passes, an aide said. But Blakely, who was among the 27 percent of Texans who cast ballots for Trump in the state’s primary, said she was “bound and determined” to cheer on her candidate, so she knocked on Texas lawmakers’ doors until she lucked out.

“I always liked him, that he wasn’t a politician, that he didn’t have any ulterior motives,” Blakely, who traversed the halls of Congress on Thursday wearing a hard-to-miss Texas flag shirt, said of Trump. “He’s just genuine and wants to help America get back on its feet and make America great again.”

She and thousands of other Texans are in Washington to witness history, they said, however messy it may be. An estimated 1 million people — Trump friends and foes alike — are expected in the capital throughout the weekend for the parades, parties, ceremonies and protests.

Trump takes office with the lowest approval ratings of any president in modern history, according to many surveys — double-digit points lower than both President Bushes.

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers, citing intelligence reports alleging Russian influence in the election, are planning to stay home. Protesters have vowed to disrupt the ceremony Friday. And on Saturday, hundreds of thousands are expected to participate in the Women’s March on Washington — an event created in reaction to Trump’s election that organizers now say is about fighting for progressive causes.

It’s against that backdrop that Bob Driegert, former chairman of the Dallas County GOP, hopes Trump will deliver an inaugural address aimed at bringing a divided country together.

“I would like to see a message about unity. I think he does want to unify the country and be inclusive,” said Driegert, who traveled to D.C. with his wife for his sixth presidential inauguration. “But it’s up to President Trump to perform. If he performs and the economy gets better, then I think you’ll probably see his approval ratings go back up.”

Pish posh, said Lydia Damrel, a florist from Vidor who picked up her inaugural tickets Thursday.

Damrel wants Trump to be the straight shooter Americans like her came to love. She isn’t so worried about unity — a code word she said often means caving to the left.

“I want him to stay right on message, exactly what he’s been saying, exactly what he’s been doing,” said Damrel, who hasn’t attended an inauguration since Ronald Reagan’s in 1985.

Michaele Frederick of University Park said she’s disappointed that some, especially on the left, haven’t embraced Trump’s victory and plan to skip the ceremonies. But with Republicans back in power, she’s ready to celebrate, starting with the Black Tie & Boots gala the night before Trump is sworn in.

“We are very excited to be part of this history, to finally have our party back in power and very excited that now we can get some things done that we want to get done,” said Frederick, who booked a flight to Washington for her family the morning after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

Ten-year-old Hugh Frederick, the fourth in his lineage, said he’s most excited about visiting the International Spy Museum while in Washington, but the inauguration seems pretty cool, too.

“It’s a tie, to be honest,” he shrugged.

Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions was among the lawmakers greeting Texans ahead of the festivities — including Allison Chaffin of Lake Fork. The Trump supporter beamed as she stood with Sessions and a cardboard cutout of Trump — a soon-to-be president she described as “handsome,” if only he’d change his hair to a “spiky, messy look.”

Dennis and Kimberly Graham of Brownwood were just as elated as they picked up inaugural tickets this week.

“We wanted to see him cross the finish line,” said Graham, who supported Trump in the primary and again as a delegate at the Republican National Convention. “I never doubted he’d be elected, even though the news media said differently. I was always with him.”

The Grahams came prepared for the festivities, with four new ballgowns and a new pair of black ostrich boots in tow. Dennis Graham is even planning to get fitted for a pair of Luccheses with an official inaugural stamp on the side while he’s here.

Even with expected protests and unhealed divisions, Graham appeared sanguine about the country’s future.

“My favorite verse in the Bible is, ‘I walk by faith and not by sight,’ ” he said. “So I think we’ll be OK, and America will be OK, and that Donald Trump will be a great president.”