Former U.S. president Donald Trump said Tuesday that he will mount a third White House campaign, launching an early start to the 2024 contest. The announcement comes just a week after an underwhelming midterm showing for his fellow Republicans and will force the party to decide whether to embrace a candidate whose refusal to accept defeat in 2020 pushed American democracy to the brink.
“In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump said to an audience of several hundred supporters, club members and gathered press in a ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago club, where he stood flanked by more than 30 American flags and banners bearing his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“I am running because I believe the world has not yet seen the true glory of what this nation can be,” Trump said.
“We will again put America first.”
Trump enters the race in a moment of political vulnerability. He had hoped to launch his campaign in the wake of resounding Republican midterm victories, fuelled by candidates he elevated during this year’s primaries. Instead, many of those candidates lost, allowing Democrats to keep the Senate and leaving the Republicans with a path to only a bare majority in the House.
Far from the undisputed leader of the party, Trump is now facing criticism from some of his own allies, who say it’s time for Republicans to look to the future, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis emerging as an early favourite White House contender.
The former president is still popular with his Republican base. But other Republicans, including former vice-president Mike Pence, are taking increasingly public steps toward campaigns of their own, raising the prospect that Trump will have to navigate a competitive party primary.
Another campaign is a remarkable turn for any former president, much less one who made history as the first to be impeached twice and whose term ended with his supporters violently storming the U.S. Capitol in a deadly bid to halt the peaceful transition of power on Jan. 6, 2021. Just one president in U.S. history has been elected to two nonconsecutive terms: Grover Cleveland in 1884 and 1892.
Trump is also facing a series of intensifying criminal investigations, including a Justice Department probe into the hundreds of documents with classified markings that were discovered in boxes and drawers at his Mar-a-Lago club.
Candidacy raises questions about future of democracy
But Trump, according to people close to him, has been eager to return to politics and try to halt the rise of other potential challengers. Aides have spent the last months readying paperwork, identifying potential staff and sketching out the contours of a campaign that is being modelled on his 2016 operation, when a small clutch of aides zipping between rallies on his private jet defied the odds and defeated far better-funded and more experienced rivals by tapping into deep political fault lines and using shocking statements to drive relentless media attention.
Trump’s candidacy poses profound questions about America’s democratic future. The final days of his presidency were consumed by a desperate effort to stay in power, undermining the centuries-old tradition of a peaceful transfer. And in the two years since he lost, Trump’s persistent — and baseless — lies about widespread election fraud have eroded confidence in the nation’s political process.
By late January 2021, about two-thirds of Republicans said they did not believe U.S. President Joe Biden was legitimately elected in 2020, an AP-NORC poll found.
VoteCast showed roughly as many Republican voters in the midterm elections continued to hold that belief.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by numerous courts, including by judges Trump appointed.
But that didn’t stop hundreds of midterm candidates from parroting his lies as they sought to win over his loyal base and score his coveted endorsement. In the end, many of those candidates went on to lose their races in a sign that voters rejected such extreme rhetoric.
While some Republicans with presidential ambitions, like former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, have long ruled out running against Trump, others have said he would not figure into their decisions, even before his midterm losses.
They include Pence, who released a book Tuesday, Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who ran against Trump in 2016.
But the person who has most occupied Trump and his allies in recent months is DeSantis, whose commanding re-election as governor last week was a bright spot for Republicans this cycle. The former congressman, who became a popular national figure among conservatives during the pandemic as he pushed back on COVID-19 restrictions, shares Trump’s pugilistic instincts and has embraced fights over social issues with similar zeal.
Even some enthusiastic Trump supporters say they are eager for DeSantis to run, seeing him as a natural successor to Trump but without the former president’s considerable baggage.
Trump has already begun to lash out at DeSantis publicly and on Tuesday, the Florida governor shot back, dismissing the criticism as “noise.”
“At the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night,” DeSantis told reporters.
Trump’s decision paves the way for a potential rematch with Biden, who has said he intends to run for re-election despite concerns from some in his party over his age and low approval ratings. The two men were already the oldest presidential nominees ever when they ran in 2020. Trump, who is 76, would be 82 at the end of a second term in 2029. Biden, who is about to turn 80, would be 86.