The guy who spawned an insurrection in January 2021 is back. On Tuesday night, Donald Trump launched his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. In front of Mar-a-Lago’s fawning faithful, he attacked Joe Biden and lamented the state of the US in his own absence. “Embarrassed”, “humiliated” and “glory” emerged as the evening’s buzzwords.
The speech sounded like a rehash of his inaugural address. The US has been warned. Unless “45” goes to prison sometime soon, expect the coming months to be a constant pity-party, fueled by a bottomless pit of grievances. In his own words, he is “persecuted” and a “victim”. His son Eric is the unfair recipient of a passel of subpoenas.
Whether this witches’ brew is enough to get the one-term president to the finish line ahead of prospective rivals and the West Wing’s current occupant is debatable. Already, Ivanka Trump has announced that she will not be part of her father’s campaign: “This time around, I am choosing to prioritize my young children.”
Sarah Matthews, the former Trump aide who emerged as a hero at the House select committee’s hearing, took a swipe of her own. “This is one of the most low-energy, uninspiring speeches I’ve ever heard from Trump,” she tweeted. “Even the crowd seems bored. Not exactly what you want when announcing a presidential run.”
Last week, the Republican party lost a Senate seat and came nowhere close to a much-touted red wave. High gasoline prices, rising mortgage rates, and non-transitory inflation paled in comparison to Trump’s malignance. Democracy was on the line, and the electorate responded. For all of this, he took a deep primetime bow.
Already, segments of the conservative establishment are signaling they are done with Trump – for now, anyway. On Monday, Cynthia Lummis – a Wyoming senator who opposed the certification of Joe Biden – referred to Ron DeSantis as “the leader of the Republican party, whether he wants to be or not”.
Last week, a New York Post headline blared: “DeFUTURE”; another screamed, “TRUMPTY DUMPTY”. Meanwhile, Ken Griffin, a Republican mega-donor, called former Trump a “three-time loser” at a Bloomberg forum in Singapore, just hours before Trump’s announcement. “It’s time the country moves forward.”
Ann Coulter, a mainstay of the conservative commentariat and enemy of “globalists”, tweeted: “To Trump: You had your chance, with a Republican House and Senate … Shut the fuck up, forever.”
The Republican party’s divisions are now plainly visible.
The current election cycle is not finished. On 6 December, Georgians again go to the polls in a run-off that pits Herschel Walker, a hand-picked Trump candidate, against the incumbent senator Raphael Warnock. Betting markets now cast Walker as the clear underdog. At Mar-a-Lago, Trump reiterated his endorsement: “Get out and vote for Herschel.”
The abortions that Walker reportedly paid for continue to exact a political price. Trump’s latest re-election bid does him no favors.
Election denialism helped propel Warnock to his initial victory in a January 2021 run-off. It also cost the Republicans the Senate – right before the then president’s minions invaded the Capitol and sought to put the torch to democracy.
Right now, the 2024 New Hampshire Republican primary stands out as a contest for the ages, one that might pit a very popular Republican governor, DeSantis, against the man who recast the party of Lincoln in his own image.
A Trump loss in New Hampshire could be fatal to his chances. He won there in 2016 and never really looked back. Whether DeSantis is or is not an updated version of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Trump would love a large field.
For the moment, however, DeSantis has the wind at his back. He is a sitting governor who won re-election by nearly 20 points. Along the way, he absorbed Trump’s message and adopted parts of his mien – without being labeled as unhinged.
Yet even if DeSantis emerges as the nominee, victory could be pyrrhic. If past is prelude, Trump could label his own defeat the product of a rigged system, and invite his loyalists to sit out the general election. After he lost the Iowa caucus in 2016, he did just that. He blamed his second-place finish there on what he called cheating by Ted Cruz.
“You know, at the end of the day I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night,” DeSantis insisted as the clock ticked-down to Trump’s announcement. The governor is expected to announce his candidacy early next year. Others may well join the fray.
Whether the Department of Justice indicts Trump is the great unanswered question. Hours before the announcement, Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organizatino’s former chief financial officer, took the witness stand in the criminal case against the company. The game is on.