Former President Donald Trump announced he’s running for president on Tuesday night, launching his 2024 comeback bid just days after his slate of election-denying candidates cost Republicans in races around the country and badly damaged his grip on the Republican Party.
“In order to make America great and glorious again I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump proclaimed to a crowd at his Mar-a-Lago home.
Trump’s campaign announcement marks not so much a return to politics as it does a continuation of his assault on democracy to further his personal political ambitions. The former president spent his years in office undercutting democratic institutions before staging an attempted coup to remain in office. The House impeached him twice—the second time after he incited a riot where his supporters besieged the U.S. Capitol. His efforts to remain in office have triggered multiple legal investigations—not to mention an FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago home aimed at recovering boxes of classified documents he allegedly illegally took with him when he left office.
All that had done little to shake his firm grip on the GOP. But the shockingly poor results for the Republican Party in last week’s midterm elections—caused in large part by Trump-backed candidates losing winnable races up and down the ballot—have suddenly made Trump’s path to the 2024 GOP presidential nomination look much more uncertain.
Trump spent the past two years maintaining his viselike grip over the Republican Party, making sure that the slate of GOP candidates running for office in this year’s midterms overwhelmingly supported his lies about the election and, by extension, would help him continue to undercut democratic institutions to help his 2024 chances. Most of the candidates he endorsed for office won their primaries this year.
A majority of Republican nominees for Congress and statewide office in 2022 echoed Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election. But many of them lost last week, costing Republicans Senate control, a number of governorships in swing states, and leaving them with what appears likely to be the bare minimum of seats needed for House control.
But now Trump is getting blamed for his party’s disappointing midterm losses in battleground states—and his return to the campaign spotlight has further frustrated Republicans who wanted him to stay on the sidelines at least until Georgia’s Senate runoff election is decided in early December.
Trump painted himself into a corner—after toying with the idea of launching his campaign right before the midterms, he announced last Monday that he’d make his “big announcement” on Tuesday, publicly locking in the date right before his party’s election flub. Now his stubborn refusal to ever admit that he’s wrong has forced him into announcing his 2024 campaign at the moment where he’s appeared weakest politically in at least two years.
During his rambling, 70-minute announcement speech, Trump couldn’t help but push falsehoods about past elections. He claimed that China meddled in the 2020 election to help defeat him and later promised an end to early and absentee voting. And he bizarrely said during his time in office the U.S. went “decades without a war” (he was there for four years), before delivering a smorgasbord of complaints about the Biden administration, pledged to execute any drug dealer arrested under his regime, and complained that he was unfairly targeted by the “deep state.”
“I'm a victim, I will tell you, I'm a victim,” he complained an hour into his speech.
And he sought to push the blame on the GOP’s poor showing elsewhere—even as he insisted Republicans will do better next election.
“Much criticism is being placed on the fact that the Republican Party should have done better and frankly much of the blame is correct but the citizens of our country have not yet realized the full extent and gravity of the pain that our nation is going through. … I have no doubt that by 2024 it will sadly be much worse and they will see much more clearly what happened and what is happening to our country and the voting will be much different in 2024.
It wasn’t until more than 20 minutes into his speech that Trump announced his candidacy, in a speech that sounded much like a lower-energy version of the campaign speech he’s been delivering for months.
The GOP’s Trump-fueled midterm losses, combined with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ sweeping reelection victory, marked the first real split of Republicans from Trump since a brief moment in the immediate wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, with many Republicans publicly blaming Trump for their party’s setbacks and touting DeSantis as a viable alternative for 2024.
Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has turned hard against Trump in recent days: his tabloid New York Post ran covers portraying Trump as “Trumpty Dumpty” and DeSantis as “DeFuture,” Fox News spent a lot more time in recent days touting DeSantis’ victory than defending Trump, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has taken repeated shots at Trump in recent days, calling him “the Republican Party’s biggest loser” in one recent editorial.
The fiscally conservative Club for Growth, a one-time close Trump ally that broke with him over some primary endorsements over the past year, released post-midterms polling that showed DeSantis leading Trump by double-digit margins in head-to-head matchups in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire as well as in Georgia and Florida.
And multiple Republican lawmakers who were big Trump boosters have refused to say whether they’ll back Trump in 2024.
Even some of Trump’s old yes-men dunked on his announcement speech. Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney pointed out that Trump’s boast about his win-loss record in the 2022 elections was wildly inflated:
Trump has spent the week since the midterms raging falsely about stolen elections, attacking his GOP foes including DeSantis (he keeps trying to make the nickname “DeSanctimonious” stick) and Murdoch’s empire, rather than framing up a 2024 campaign message.
As he’s raged, other Republicans who have been gearing up for their own 2024 campaigns have moved forward with their plans. Former Vice President Mike Pence is about to launch his book tour in what’s long expected to be a curtain-raiser for a White House bid of his own, and told ABC News on Tuesday that Trump endangered him and his family during the Capitol Riot. Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is running ads in the early primary states. Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has toured those states as well.
This doesn’t mean Trump is cooked. There have been many points where the GOP establishment refused to back Trump before coming back into the fold when it became clear that base Republican voters were still firmly behind him—the 2016 primaries, after his “grab her by the pussy” remarks became public, after the Capitol riot. He retains a huge number of rabid supporters, and especially in a crowded primary field could win, just like he did in 2016.
And Trump still has his own looming legal troubles to contend with. The Justice Department continues to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, has subpoenaed countless Trump 2020 hangers-on, and could still bring charges for the classified documents that Trump removed from the White House as he left office. He’s also facing an ongoing legal threat in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani WIllis is investigating potential crimes related to his attempt to strong arm local officials into overturning his loss in that state.
Trump toyed for months with the idea of launching his 2024 campaign before the midterms, but advisers and other Republicans kept talking him out of it, worried that his presence could hurt other Republican candidates. The Republican National Committee said they’d stop paying his legal bills if he became a candidate and warned that he wouldn’t be able to touch much of the vast sums of money he’s raised with his post-presidential organization once he became an active candidate.
Trump may be down, but he’s shown before that he has enough die-hard supporters that he shouldn’t be counted out in a GOP primary. His name recognition is through the roof, he remains popular with base voters, and he’s a fundraising machine.
And at least before the election he still looked like the prohibitive favorite: early polls showed him leading DeSantis and the rest of the potential field of candidates by a wide margin.
If Trump wins the primary, he’ll likely have a rematch against President Joe Biden who has strongly signaled he’ll run for reelection, setting up a likely rematch of two unpopular aging politicians.
Biden won the national popular vote by nearly 7 million votes in 2020, but he barely beat Trump in the Electoral College. Biden’s combined margin of victory was just 44,000 votes out of nearly 11.7 million cast in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, the three states that handed him the presidency. He carried each state by less than one percentage point and fell short of 50 percent of the vote in all three. Trump won the 2016 presidency by less than 80,000 combined votes in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
It’s far too early to say what the national political mood will look like in two years but, in a deeply polarized political climate and closely divided country, the next presidential race could well be as close as the last two have been.
And both Biden and Trump are rather unpopular. Biden’s job approval rating currently hovers around 40 percent in national polls—slightly worse than where Trump’s was heading into the midterms four years ago and the lowest of any president at this point in his presidency since WWII. Those numbers have been driven down by sky-high inflation and a darkening economic climate that has put Democrats in a bad position heading into the midterms.
Trump’s poll numbers aren’t any better. Early head-to-head surveys suggest that Biden and Trump would begin the 2024 race in a dead heat. But as the 2022 midterms indicate, voters seem to prefer Biden with all his economic baggage to Trump’s brand of chaos.