President Trump is mounting a comeback bid with the hope that the GOP will once again rally behind him — just as some Republicans worry nominating him for president for a third time is a recipe for failure at the ballot box.
The former president announced the launch of his 2024 presidential campaign from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida Tuesday night, claiming the country has slipped into anarchy under President Biden and arguing he could repeat the policy successes of his first term.
But he did so at a time when the calls from some party members to move on from Trump are as loud as they’ve been since he left office under the cloud of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and a second impeachment.
Trump pointed to a strong economy before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, reworked trade deals and a brash approach to international relations that kept the U.S. out of foreign conflicts as a case for another term.
But he ignored the major concerns some in the party have about his viability, steering clear of his pandemic response and his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and absolving himself of blame for the party’s underwhelming midterm showing.
“The voting will be much different. 2024. Are you getting ready?” Trump said to applause. “I am, too.”
Republicans are sifting through the aftermath of last week’s midterm elections, where expected sweeping victories never materialized. Democrats will hold on to their majority in the Senate, while Republicans appear poised to retake the House with a smaller margin than many hoped.
For some prominent figures in the party, it served as an inflection point. And while many did not name Trump explicitly, their message was clear: The party can choose to move away from making Trump central to everything it does, or it can risk more stinging defeats in 2024.
“We underperformed among independents and moderates, because their impression of many of the people in our party in leadership roles is that they’re involved in chaos, negativity, excessive attacks, and it frightened independent and moderate Republican voters,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who served alongside Trump for four years, said on SiriusXM that the candidates who fared best in the midterms offered forward-looking solutions to major problems like inflation and crime, while “candidates that were focused on relitigating the last election, I think, did not fare as well.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the 2022 midterms “the funeral for the Republican Party as we know it.”
And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is viewed as perhaps Trump’s chief rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, expressed concern that the party was unable to capitalize on Biden’s unpopularity with many voters.
“These independent voters aren’t voting for our candidates, even with Biden in the White House and the failures that we’re seeing. That’s a problem,” DeSantis said Tuesday.
Some of the blame for the GOP’s underwhelming midterm performance has fallen on Trump, whose endorsements helped carry candidates through Senate, House and gubernatorial primaries but not to victory in the general elections.
Trump made a point to address the midterm outcome during his speech, and he even acknowledged the party was facing deserved criticism. But the criticism should not be directed at him, Trump said.
Many of Trump’s highest profile and most meaningful endorsements lost in the general election: Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania’s Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively; Blake Masters and Kari Lake in Arizona’s Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively; Tudor Dixon in Michigan’s gubernatorial race; Tim Michels in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race; and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire’s Senate race.
Trump instead blamed voters for the poor showing for Republicans, suggesting they did not yet realize how bad the Biden administration’s policies would be for them.
“Citizens of our country have not yet realized the pain our country is going through … they don’t quite feel it yet. But they will very soon,” Trump said. “I have no doubt that by 2024 it will sadly be much worse, and they will see much more clearly what happened.”
The midterm results have left Trump’s influence within the party at perhaps its most precarious point since right after he left the White House, when many Republicans appeared ready to distance themselves from Trump after he spent months whipping supporters into a frenzy over the 2020 election, culminating in the riot at the Capitol.
While that criticism faded and much of the GOP has remained loyal to Trump in the two years since, the question now is whether the former president can stave off the push among some conservatives to move on to a candidate who can carry on Trump’s brand of politics without the baggage.
Pence has indicated he is giving thought to a 2024 presidential bid, as has former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both have said Trump’s campaign launch will not affect their decisions.
DeSantis, meanwhile, has become the star of the moment for many conservatives, earning fawning coverage from Fox News and the New York Post after a landslide reelection win last week.
The conservative Club for Growth, which broke with Trump on some of his midterm endorsements, released a poll on the eve of his 2024 announcement showing DeSantis leading Trump in head-to-head match-ups in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as their home state of Florida.
A Politico-Morning Consult poll released this week, however, was more favorable for Trump, finding that 47 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would back him in a presidential primary if it were held today, compared to 33 percent who said they’d support the Florida governor.
Since 2015, the party has been molded in Trump’s image. He reshaped the way the GOP discusses immigration, international alliances and trade. He brought scores of new voters into the fold, solidified the party’s hold on states like Ohio and Florida and developed a devoted following, giving him a remarkably high floor of support within the party.
But Trump has also turned off independent and moderate voters with his unpredictability, his constant personal attacks on those who criticize or oppose him, his fixation on the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen and his legal entanglements over his business dealings and handling of classified documents, the latter of which involved a search of the property where he made Tuesday night’s announcement.
Tuesday’s speech served as the start of what will be a lengthy decisionmaking process for the GOP about whether it will remain Trump’s party for the foreseeable future, or if the electorate is ready to move on.
“The journey ahead of us will not be easy,” Trump said. “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.”