For a long time, Donald Trump fueled speculation that he could run for the presidency again in 2024. Now he’s making it official. But after his party’s poor performance in the congressional elections, his starting position has deteriorated.
For his standards, Donald Trump seems to have been slowed down by what he considers to be perhaps the biggest announcement of all time. As usual, the ex-US President throws superlatives around this evening (“I will fight like no one has ever fought before”), but he does so more calmly, more slowly and less energetically than usual during election campaign appearances. “We’re keeping it very elegant today,” says the 76-year-old, before making his “big announcement” to the world without the usual crescendo, flourish or drum roll: “To make America great and glorious again, tonight I’m giving mine candidacy for President of the United States.”
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The Republican has chosen his private Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida for the grand entrance. The place that FBI investigators searched a good three months ago because Trump kept secret government documents there long after he left the White House. And he chose the day when US President Joe Biden is on the other side of the world on the world stage at the G20 summit in Indonesia.
Trump’s stage is in a room that’s not stingy with gold and glitter. Lush chandeliers hang from the ceiling, golden chairs with invited guests fill the hall, a whole battery of US flags is lined up on the stage, banners with Trump’s old and new campaign motto hang to the left and right: “Make America Great Again”, in short MAGA (in English: Make America Great Again).
The Republican used the slogan in his first presidential campaign in 2016. Back then, he liked the role of the political underdog, the outsider stirring up the establishment. He is now trying again with this story: “The Washington establishment wants to silence us, but I will not allow that,” Trump calls into the hall. “I am your voice.” He will expose corruption, “drain the swamp,” dismantle the “deep state,” free the country from the clutches of “radical leftists,” and save the US from Biden and doom.
They are old Trump classics, but he delivers them less aggressively than usual. On this evening he saves insults and tasteless jokes, tries to be a little more as a statesman than as an entertainer, and above all he almost completely omits a topic with which he has denied almost every appearance in the past two years: the tale of the “stolen election” of 2020, from massive voter fraud that robbed him of a win against Biden.
The US congressional elections a week ago showed that many Americans no longer want to hear Trump’s claims and baiting about the election. Numerous extreme candidates he supported and who shared his vote denial failed. And the Republicans had a highly disappointing result. Many party colleagues openly blame Trump for the debacle – him and his dark, never-ending complaints about alleged fraud.
Trump now promises that his new campaign will be about visions, “big ideas” and “bold dreams”. “Because it’s not enough just to complain,” says Trump, who has done little else for the past two years. “We don’t want to be whiners.”
After the defeat in the congressional elections, many Republicans are calling for more positive messages, a little more common sense, a little less scandal. And some demand: less Trump. The election debacle has shaken his leadership role in the party.
The number of Republicans who are publicly calling for Trump to be left behind is growing every day – now more and more prominent figures are among them. Even Trump’s former deputy, Mike Pence, who was once loyal to his boss, recently said in an interview that he believes there are better alternatives than Trump in the future. Pence now makes no secret of the fact that he himself is considering a presidential bid for 2024 against Trump.
A few months ago it was still completely unclear whether anyone would even dare to run against Trump. Now a whole series of opponents is conceivable. One person in particular could pose a threat to Trump: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the new strongman in the Republican Party. After the 44-year-old was re-elected governor with a strong result in the midterm elections, dozens of party colleagues are publicly urging him to run in 2024. DeSantis has not yet declared itself.
Republicans who publicly support Trump’s presidential bid, on the other hand, are rarer and tend to come from the far right of the party. And even Trump’s daughter Ivanka – still “First Daughter” and Presidential Advisor during her father’s tenure – does not want to be present at Trump’s second attempt, as she explains shortly after his appearance. She is missing from the hall in Mar-a-Lago.
At the grassroots level, Trump still has a sizeable fervent supporter base. But is that enough? Because in the end, in order to become his party’s official candidate, Trump has to prevail in internal party primaries – against presumably some competition.
Trump is also involved in various legal disputes – because of the taking away of secret government documents, the Capitol attack, dubious business practices, because of his attempts to subsequently overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. The list goes on. The threat of legal trouble may have played into his decision to launch a third presidential campaign in hopes that it would protect him from prosecution or give him new arguments to denounce any crackdown on him as politically motivated. He would only be really protected if he moved into the White House again. Whether he will succeed is an open question.
In the United States, a person can serve two terms, whether consecutive or not. So far, however, there has only been one president in US history who has been elected back to the White House for a second time after an interruption: Grover Cleveland – in the 19th century. So far, Trump has secured an entry in the history books with other things: as the first US President against whom two impeachment proceedings were initiated in Congress during his term in office. And as a president who refused to admit his electoral defeat, who lashed out at his supporters with allegations of fraud until they violently stormed the seat of Congress in Washington. That cannot be forgotten.