There was no escalator this time — but former president Donald Trump still announced his candidacy at one of his own properties. This time, it was at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort in Mar-a-Lago in a swanky ballroom. The room was adorned in gold and Trump had a row of American flags at his back as he said he would run for president for the third time, hoping to win the 2024 presidential nomination.
Trump earned some ire from the GOP base last week when he attacked Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, but this has not released his grip on the Republican Party. He opened his speech by promising, “America’s comeback starts now.” It’s “Make America Great Again,” but…again.
His 2016 announcement focused on the unfettered illegal immigration harming the American worker and the bad trade deals that offshored manufacturing, a message that allowed him to break the so-called “blue wall” in the Midwest. This time, the story was about how far the US has fallen since his presidency ended two years ago. Trump spoke about the economic greatness, energy independence and global power that he brought back to the country. Biden has overseen historic levels of inflation and illegal immigration, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Under our leadership, we were a great and glorious nation,” Trump said. “Most importantly, we were a free nation. But now we are a nation in decline.”
If you watched CNN ahead of the announcement, they reported that no one really wants Trump to run. Yet as usual, the reports of Trump’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Anyone who says the walls are closing in, or that they’ve finally got him, is short-sighted and, well, wrong. Dave Chappelle explained Trump during his Saturday Night Live monologue this past weekend. Trump, he said, is the most honest liar. He argued that Trump tells the truth about his own dishonesty. But Trump is really an “honest liar” because although he sometimes exaggerates the truth, he is always basically right. This is something that appeals to the average American, as it should, and seemingly cannot be replicated by any another politician.
There are conservatives who have good reasons to want to move on from Trump. Even I was frustrated after last Tuesday’s disappointment, and I am a big fan of DeSantis. Trump’s endorsements in toss-ups didn’t pan out as well as one would hope. He attacked some of the best people in his party. But there is an intangible quality to Trump when he hits the target. When Trump is focused, he can’t help but win.
“This is not a task… for a conventional candidate,” Trump said Tuesday night. “This is a task for a movement.”
There was no attack on DeSantis, or mention of Kari Lake’s election being stolen in the Arizona gubernatorial election, or serious backtracking on 2020. Instead, Trump talked about his hope for the nation’s future and the many accomplishments during his first term.
“The Washington establishment wants to silence us,” Trump said, as CNN conveniently cut away from the speech and allowed its so-called analysts to weigh in.
The reality is that even though there was anger and skepticism over another Trump term, his base heard his speech Tuesday night and looked on with the same optimism they had in 2016. He said what even the Republican Party would not say with vigor ahead of what should have been a sweep in the 2022 midterm elections. They tried to coast into victory, but Trump still wants to fight.
“This campaign will be about issues, vision, and success,” Trump said.
The biggest question is if Trump will be able to take on the losers in his own party. It will matter in a general election in 2024. McCarthy, McConnell and McDaniel blew the 2022 midterms. They likely aren’t going anywhere; Trump has endorsed two of them. When Trump first ran in 2016, he talked about the swamp and the institutional rot in the GOP and how it handicapped good people. If he is going to capture that outsider magic once again, he has to demand that better people be put in charge of the Republican Party machine.
Trump’s biggest asset, arguably, is that he was the father of the GOP’s realignment. He became a hero of the working class and championed policies that put blue-collar Americans and the country as a whole above the elite class. If he can recapture that energy and leave behind the petty spats in favor of success stories, he will perform well in 2024.
“We will again put America first,” he said. “This won’t be my campaign. This will be our campaign.”