Twice-impeached former President Donald Trump launched his third presidential campaign on Tuesday night while repeating his long-discredited lie that his last election was stolen.
Trump announced yet another White House bid from his Mar-a-Lago resort, which was raided by the FBI in August after he took top-secret national security documents home and refused to give them back in response to a subpoena. Trump's announcement came just days after a slew of election deniers he endorsed lost winnable races in the midterms, prompting pleas from his own longtime allies to delay his announcement because he could hurt the GOP's chances in the Georgia Senate runoff — as he did after his 2020 election loss.
Trump, who has continued to push baseless conspiracy theories about his endorsed candidates' midterm losses, skirted the issue of election denial in his hour-long speech on Tuesday. He endeavored to strike a positive message at times, declaring, "In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States." But he also repeated familiar themes from his "American Carnage" inaugural address in 2017, suggesting that the U.S. was being "poisoned" by immigration and described American cities as crime-ridden "cesspools of blood."
The scandal-plagued ex-president never explicitly mentioned the 2020 election — indeed, his announcement that he's running for president again is as close as he's ever come to admitting he lost that election — or the insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol he provoked on Jan. 6, 2021, two weeks before leaving office.
Trump's nascent campaign is already messy. He is not expected to have a "traditional campaign manager" and will have a smaller staff and budget than in previous campaigns, according to a Tuesday report in the Washington Post, and some allies have already predicted "drama and cinematic firings" before the campaign even launched. Ivanka Trump refused to join him at the announcement or take part in his campaign despite Trump's "begging," according to the New York Post, though her husband Jared Kushner was in attendance. Other longtime allies privately say they are not sure they want to take part in another campaign after many received subpoenas related to their work for Trump, according to the reports.
The announcement has financial implications as well. Trump has raised tens of millions for his Save America PAC but he cannot coordinate with the group as a federal candidate. The Campaign Legal Center on Monday filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission arguing that Trump illegally transferred millions from the PAC to back his presidential campaign.
Trump's announcement could not have come at a worse time. His speech came one day after his Arizona gubernatorial pick, Kari Lake, narrowly lost her race in the wake of a string of defeats suffered by other Trump-backed candidates, including Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters in Arizona, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire and others.
Trump never directly mentioned the 2020 election or the Jan. 6 insurrection, and to some extent sought to sound positive. He also said America was being "poisoned" by immigrants and called U.S. cities "cesspools of blood."
Some of Trump's own advisers acknowledged after the midterms that his candidates' failures caused him the "most significant damage to his political standing since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot," according to Axios. Trump reportedly wanted to announce before the midterms to ensure that "he would receive sufficient credit for the GOP triumphs," according to the report, but agreed to hold off.
The losses alarmed even Trump's closest allies ahead of the Georgia runoff. Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany urged Trump to delay his announcement and suggested that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis should be the one to campaign in Georgia for Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker. Longtime Trump adviser Jason Miller also urged Trump to hold off his announcement. Former Vice President Mike Pence predicted this week that the GOP "will have better choices in the future" than Trump.
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Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former top Trump White House aide, said Trump's early announcement was "a sign of weakness."
"Announcing a presidential run at this time is a sign of weakness usually a candidate in a strong place would wait until next summer but he clearly knows he got — we got our clocks cleaned in the midterms, and now he wants the attention back on him," she said on "The View."
Fox News pundits and other Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets have increasingly criticized Trump while pushing DeSantis as the future of the GOP. The Wall Street Journal last week dubbed Trump the GOP's "biggest loser," faulting him for costing the party election wins in 2018, 2020, 2021 and this year.
Some Republican lawmakers are already backing DeSantis for 2024.
"The question is: who is the current leader of the Republican Party? Oh, I know who it is: Ron DeSantis," Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., told reporters this week. "Ron DeSantis is the leader of the Republican Party, whether he wants to be or not."
"Looking forward is always a better campaign strategy. Looking back on 2020 obviously didn't work out. We ought to look forward," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
Even longtime Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., demurred when asked if he would back Trump's bid.
"Let's see what he says," he told reporters. "I'll tell you after Georgia."
A growing number of Republican voters are also jumping on the DeSantis bandwagon.
More Republican voters prefer DeSantis as the 2024 nominee than Trump, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll. The conservative Club for Growth released a set of polls showing DeSantis leading Trump by double digits in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first nominating contests, as well as in Florida and Georgia. A poll sponsored by the Texas GOP found DeSantis leading Trump 43-32 in the state, a 28-point swing in three weeks.
Trump has increasingly hit out at DeSantis, labeling him as "Ron DeSanctimonious." Rejecting blame for GOP losses in the midterms, Trump claimed credit for getting DeSantis elected and accused him of disloyalty for refusing to rule out a 2024 presidential run. Trump is also lashing out at other potential 2024 contenders, including Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, bizarrely suggesting that his name "sounds Chinese" and claiming credit for his win.
Trump's announcement comes after a week of unrelenting bad news, along with his attacks on potential rivals "Ron DeSanctimonious" and Glenn ("sounds Chinese") Youngkin.
Along with attacks on members of his own party, Trump, who lost the popular vote in both of his previous campaigns by millions, has spent the last two years focused on debunked claims that the 2020 presidential election was somehow rigged, even though the Jan. 6 committee hearings have shown that his administration and campaign found no evidence to back up his claims. Trump's lawyers lost nearly every court case they brought, with some now facing court sanctions or even billion-dollar defamation lawsuits for making baseless allegations about the election.
Trump's obsession with overturning his loss to retain power culminated in the fake elector scheme that has come under investigation by the Justice Department, and ultimately the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Witnesses at the Jan. 6 hearings have described a petulant Trump repeatedly rejecting his own administration's findings that his fraud allegations were false and trying to replace officials who would not go along with his lie with loyalists who sought to take actions to overturn his loss that White House lawyers repeatedly said were illegal.
A federal judge earlier this year found that Trump's efforts to overturn the election "more likely than not" violated federal law, calling it a "coup in search of a legal theory." While members of the committee have publicly called for Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Trump's actions, the DOJ has slowly issued subpoenas to his allies while largely focusing on prosecuting those who stormed the Capitol.
Trump's potential legal woes extend beyond the Jan. 6 hearings and the Justice Department, which is also investigating how top secret documents wound up at Mar-a-Lago. He also faces civil lawsuits from lawmakers and police officers who defended the Capitol during the riot. A Georgia grand jury is investigating his efforts to pressure state officials to overturn his loss. The New York attorney general's office filed a $250 million fraud lawsuit against him and his three eldest children. And the Manhattan district attorney's office is prosecuting Trump Organization executives on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Trump also faces a defamation lawsuit from E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of rape amid dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct.
Trump, who has continued to display a Teflon-like quality to avoid serious legal ramifications while countless underlings have been convicted, indicted or sanctioned, also faces a tougher political climb than he did in 2020, when no prominent Republicans challenged him for the nomination.
Trump's legal woes go far beyond the Jan. 6 hearings and the Mar-a-Lago investigation: There are civil lawsuits, a Georgia grand jury probe and a criminal case in Manhattan.
Along with DeSantis, the list of potential 2024 Republican rivals includes several former administration officials, including Pence, whom Trump has spent months attacking for not trying to unilaterally block his election loss after the riot. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley have also been discussed as potential presidential contenders, though it is unclear whether they will run now that Trump has announced his bid. Pompeo said on Tuesday that Trump's announcement would not have any impact on his decision.
A growing number of senators have also made moves ahead of a potential 2024 primary battle, including 2016 also-ran Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only Black Republican in the Senate.
While the senators have been reticent about criticizing the former president, Trump critics like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and potentially Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the outgoing vice chair of the Jan. 6 panel, are also expected to be in the mix.
Cheney expressed confidence that Trump would lose. "There's no question that he's unfit for office and I feel confident that he will never be president again," she predicted.
But no 2024 contender has drawn as much attention as DeSantis, who won re-election by nearly 20 points after snubbing the former president's endorsement. DeSantis has raised "huge sums from six and seven-figure Trump donors" which could leave him with a massive war chest that he could later use to mount a White House bid, according to Politico.
Whichever Republican wins the nomination is likely to face off against Biden, who will be nearly 82 by the 2024 election. The president has repeatedly said he plans to run for re-election but his approval rating has consistently hovered around 40%, roughly the same level as Trump's when he left office amid the COVID pandemic and economic turmoil.
It's unclear whether Trump can replicate the success he saw as a political newcomer in 2016. Some Republicans are worried not just about a Trump win but also a Trump loss.
"Let's suppose for a second there is a real challenge to Trump for the '24 nomination. And let's suppose someone actually does beat him in that primary," tweeted Brendan Buck, a former top aide to House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner. "What then are the chances Trump wouldn't entirely sabotage that person in the general election?"