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 said.
Trump’s long-awaited campaign comes as the former president 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.
On Tuesday night, he acknowledged the losses his party suffered but didn’t challenge the results – a marked shift from how he has long treated his own loss in the 2020 presidential election, which he continues to say was stolen.
He did deflect blame for the 2022 results by saying that voters had “not yet realized the full extent and gravity of the pain our nation is going through,” and then predicted that by 2024 “the voting will be much different.”
Trump’s paperwork establishing his candidacy landed with the Federal Election Committee shortly before he delivered his announcement at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida waterfront estate.
But Trump is also 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.
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 Susie 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, Brian Jack and Brad Parscale, who managed part of his failed 2020 campaign. Notably, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was deeply involved in his quest for reelection, is widely expected not to be involved this time around.
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.