Nov 16 (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump, aiming to become only the second commander-in-chief ever elected to two nonconsecutive terms, announced Tuesday night that he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
“In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump told a crowd gathered at Mar-a-Lago, his waterfront estate in Florida, where his campaign will be headquartered.
Surrounded by allies, advisers, and conservative influencers, Trump delivered a relatively subdued speech, rife with spurious and exaggerated claims about his four years in office. To evoke nostalgia for his time in office among Republicans who have shown signs of Trump fatigue following the midterms, he frequently contrasted his first-term accomplishments with the Biden administration’s policies and the current economic climate. Many of those perceived accomplishments – from strict immigration actions to corporate tax cuts and religious freedom initiatives – remain deeply polarizing to this day.
As Trump spoke to a roomful of Republicans who expect him to face primary challengers in the coming months, he also claimed the party cannot afford to nominate “a politician or conventional candidate” if it wants to win back the White House.
“This will not be my campaign, this will be our campaign all together,” Trump said.
Trump’s long-awaited campaign comes as he tries to reclaim the spotlight following the GOP’s underwhelming midterm elections performance – including the losses of several Trump-endorsed election deniers – and the subsequent blame game that has unfolded since Election Day. Republicans failed to gain a Senate majority, came up short in their efforts to fill several statewide seats, and have yet to secure a House majority, with only 215 races called in their favor so far out of the 218 needed, developments that have forced Trump and other party leaders into a defensive posture as they face reproval from within their ranks.
Trump’s paperwork establishing his candidacy landed with the Federal Election Committee shortly before he delivered his announcement at Mar-a-Lago.
To the delight of aides and allies who have long advised him to mount a forward-looking campaign, he spent only a fraction of his remarks repeating his lies about about the 2020 election. Though he decried the use of paper ballots and likened America’s election system to that of “third world countries,” Trump also tried at times to broaden his grievances – lamenting the “massive corruption” and “entrenched interests” that in his view have consumed Washington. Many of Trump’s top advisers have expressed concern that his fixation on promoting conspiracies about the last presidential election would make it harder for him to win a national election in 2024.
Throughout the hour-long speech, Trump made clear that he wants his campaign to be seen by Republicans as a sacrificial undertaking.
“Anyone who truly seeks to take on this rigged and corrupt system will be faced with a storm of fire that only a few could understand,” he said at one point, describing the legal and emotional toll his presidency and post-presidential period has taken on his family members.
On the heels of last week’s midterm elections, Trump has been blamed for elevating flawed candidates who spent too much time parroting his claims about election fraud, alienating key voters and ultimately leading to their defeats. He attempted to counter that criticism on Tuesday, noting that Republicans appear poised to retake the House majority and touting at least one Trump-endorsed candidate, Kevin Kiley of California. At one point, Trump appeared to blame his party’s midterm performance on voters not yet realizing “the total effect of the suffering” after two years of Democratic control in Washington.
“I have no doubt that by 2024, it will sadly be much worse and they will see clearly what has happened and is happening to our country – and the voting will be much different,” he claimed.
Beating others to the punch
Trump is betting that his first-out-of-the gate strategy will fend off potential primary rivals and give him an early advantage with deep-pocketed donors, aides say. He is widely expected to be challenged by both conservative and moderate Republicans, though the calculus of some presidential hopefuls could change now that he is running. Others – like his former Vice President, Mike Pence – may proceed anyway.
Trump’s third presidential bid also coincides with a period of heightened legal peril as Justice Department officials investigating him and his associates revisit the prospect of indictments in their Trump-related probes. The former president is currently being investigated for his activities before and during the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol and his retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left office. While Trump is counting on an easy path to the GOP nomination with his sustained support among the party’s base, his announcement is likely to dash the hopes of party leaders who have longed for fresh talent. In particular, top Republicans have been paying close attention to the next moves of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won his reelection contest with a 19-point margin of victory and considerable support from minority and independent voters. Some Republican leaders may try to scuttle Trump’s campaign by elevating or encouraging alternative candidates, including DeSantis, who has been quietly laying the groundwork for a possible White House bid of his own.
Of course, any countereffort to inhibit Trump’s path to the nomination is likely to prove difficult. Despite his myriad legal entanglements and the stain of January 6, the twice-impeached 45th president remains immensely popular among most Republican voters and boasts a deep connection with his core backers that could prove difficult for other GOP hopefuls to replicate or weaken. Even leading conservatives who disliked Trump’s pugnacious politics and heterodox policies stuck with him as president because he helped solidify the rightward shift of the US Supreme Court with his nominations – one of the most far-reaching aspects of his legacy, which resulted in the conservative court majority’s deeply polarizing June decision to end federal abortion rights. In fact, while Trump ended his first term with the lowest approval rating of any president.
Republicans viewed him favorably, according to a May NBC News poll. That alone could give Trump a significant edge over primary opponents whom voters are still familiarizing themselves with.
Among those potential competitors is Pence, who would likely benefit from high name recognition due to his role as vice president. Pence, who has been preparing for a possible White House run in 2024, is sure to face an uphill battle courting Trump’s most loyal supporters, many of whom soured on the former vice president after he declined to overstep his congressional authority and block certification of now-President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. Trump could also find himself pitted against DeSantis, who has risen to hero status among cultural conservatives and who is widely considered a more polished version of Trump. Even some of the former president’s advisers have voiced similar observations to CNN, noting that DeSantis also made inroads with major Republican donors during his quest for reelection and built a mountain of goodwill with GOP leaders by campaigning for federal and statewide Republican candidates in the middle of his own race.
Beyond his potential rivals, Trump has another roadblock in his path as the House select committee continues to investigate his role in January 6, 2021, and Justice Department officials weigh whether to issue criminal charges. The committee, which subpoenaed him for testimony and documents in October and which Trump is now battling in court, held public hearings throughout the summer and early fall featuring depositions from those in Trump’s inner circle at the White House – including members of his family – that detailed his public and private efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results through a sustained pressure campaign on numerous local, state and federal officials, and on his own vice president.
But Trump’s desire to announce his campaign early can be especially traced to the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, which advisers say further emboldened his decision to mount what he believes will be a triumphant political comeback. The day after the search, the former president fielded calls from allies advising him to accelerate his 2024 timeline. That night, he huddled with House lawmakers in the Republican Study Committee and told them he’d “made up his mind” about launching a bid, though some of those same House Republicans later convinced him to wait until after the midterm elections to announce his next move.
Few of those lawmakers were present for Trump’s speech on Tuesday, choosing to remain in Washington as House Republicans conducted their leadership elections and the party continues to grapple with its failures in highly prized midterm races. Rather, the room was filled with prominent election deniers like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, several of Trump’s attorneys, and past and present aides. Before he entered the room on Tuesday alongside former first lady Melania Trump, several members of the ex-president’s family were also seen filtering into the ballroom, including Eric and Lara Trump, his son Barron, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Donald Trump Jr. His eldest son was notably missing, along with daughter Ivanka. Other guests included longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone; outgoing North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn; former congressman and the current CEO of Trump’s Truth Social app Devin Nunes; and his chief political adviser Susie Wiles.
Preparing for 2024
From the moment Trump left Washington, defeated and disgraced, in January 2021, he began plotting a return to power – devoting the bulk of his time to building a political operation intended for this moment. With assistance from numerous former aides and advisers, he continued the aggressive fundraising tactics that had become a marker of his 2020 campaign, amassing a colossal war chest ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, and worked diligently to elect steadfast allies in both Congress and state legislatures across the country.
While maintaining a home base in Florida, he also regularly jet-setted across the country for campaign rallies that afforded him crucial face time with his base and with candidates he bet would become valuable allies in the US Senate and House.
Through it all, Trump continued to falsely insist that the 2020 election was stolen from him, indulging in far-flung conspiracy theories about voter fraud and pressuring Republican leaders across the party’s election apparatus to endorse changes that would curtail voting rights.
Trump’s aides were pleased earlier this fall when his public appearances and rally speeches gradually became more focused on rising crime, immigration and economic woes – key themes throughout the midterm cycle and issues they hope will enable him to draw a compelling contrast with Biden as he begins this next chapter. Allies of the former president have long said that he views the 2024 contest as an opportunity to regain what he believes is his: another four years in the Oval Office.
But there is no guarantee that Trump will glide easily to a nonconsecutive second term. In fact, it could be quite difficult.
Not only does history offer just one example of such a feat (defeated in 1888 after his first term, President Grover Cleveland was elected again in 1892), no previously impeached president has ever run again for office. Trump was first impeached in 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice, and then again in 2021 for inciting the riot at the US Capitol. Though he was acquitted by the Senate both times, 10 House Republicans broke with their party the second time around to join Democrats in a vote to impeach him. Seven Republican senators voted to convict him at his Senate trial.
Trump has also been the subject of a bevy of lawsuits and investigations, including a New York state investigation and a separate Manhattan district attorney criminal probe into his company’s finances, a Georgia county probe into his efforts to overturn Biden’s election win in the state, and separate Justice Department probes into his campaign’s scheme to put forth fake electors in battleground states and his decision to bring classified materials with him to Mar-a-Lago upon leaving office.
Trump’s actions since he left Washington have, for the most part, signaled his interest in an eventual return. While most former presidents go quietly into retirement – resurfacing to assist their parties during midterm cycles or for the opening of their presidential libraries – Trump bucked tradition to instead plot the comeback he now hopes to make. Despite its distance from Washington, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club has transformed into a new hub for Republicans and a home base for his political machine. Assisted by a small group of paid staffers, he has hosted numerous candidate and committee fundraisers and seen a rotating cast of party leaders and congressional hopefuls filter through its gilded hallways in the hopes of nabbing his endorsement or reingratiating themselves with his base. Trump’s schedule has enabled him to build close relationships with party leaders and fringe figures – from House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia – whose support in a contested primary could ultimately help him clear the field. Many of the aides who have been with him since he left the White House are expected to continue on as campaign hands, as the former president and his de facto chief of staff, longtime Florida GOP strategist Wiles, aim to maintain a lean operation much like the early days of his 2016 presidential campaign. Among those who are likely to be involved are Wiles, Taylor Budowich, Chris LaCivita, Steven Cheung, Justin Caperole and Brian Jack. Brad Parscale, who managed part of Trump’s failed 2020 campaign will not be part of his 2024 operation, nor will Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was deeply involved in his quest for reelection.
Time in office
As president, Trump faced criticism over several of his actions, especially his management of the worst public health crisis in nearly a century – the Covid-19 pandemic – though his administration helped facilitate the development of vaccines to treat the novel coronavirus in record time. He also was blasted by critics over his handling of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017; the White nationalist rally, also in 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed while walking with a group of counterprotesters; and Black Lives Matter protests.
While in office, Trump signed sweeping tax cuts into law, enacted controversial hard-line immigration policies, including a policy that separated migrant children from their families and one known as “Remain in Mexico,” which the US Supreme Court ruled in June could be ended by his successor, and appointed hundreds of federal judges with deep conservative credentials. He also successfully nominated three Supreme Court justices, whose decisions this year as part of the court’s majority have shifted American society and laws rightward on issues such as abortion, guns, religious freedom and climate change.
The former real estate businessman and reality TV star was first elected to office in 2016, beating out a wide field of more than a dozen GOP candidates in an ugly primary, and then prevailing over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a contentious general election, despite sexual misconduct allegations that would have typically been campaign-ending.
As president, Trump was an impulsive leader, who dispensed with long-standing norms, often announcing policy and Cabinet personnel changes on Twitter. (He was ultimately banned from the platform following the US Capitol riot and was later barred from Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube as well.)
He pushed an “America First” foreign policy approach, pulling the US out of international agreements such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, a pair of controversial moves that were decried by many of America’s top European allies.