Trump Is In It To Win It
The former president wants you to only remember the golden parts of his tenure
There was never a question in my mind about Donald Trump jumping into the 2024 stakes, the only question was when and with what motivation — would he do it in a pre-planned, serious, traditional way? Or would he just do it in a flurry of passion in response to a particularly energetic crowd?
We almost got the latter last week the day before the midterms — Trump’s opponents probably wish that he’d done that, now, and increased his ownership of the disappointing results. But instead he opted for the traditional teleprompted flag-draped approach. This read as low-energy and somber, but it also read as more serious to voters who don’t want to recall his crazier antics on the campaign trail.
Trump’s argument is simple: Things were good when I was in charge, and now everything sucks. The 2020 election gripes aside, he won the most votes of any incumbent president, and he deserves another shot to regain the White House. It’s simple and straightforward but it’s also not inspiring, which could prove to be a problem over a sustained two year campaign.
One underrated challenge that Trump will have to deal with now is that he doesn’t have as clear-cut an anti-establishment position now, given that his people are effectively the leaders of the GOP, and his populist agenda is now shared far more widely than the opposition.
As for Ron DeSantis, the problem is straightforward: To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.
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.
Advisers knew former President Trump, bleeding support among Republicans for his wild antics over the past week, needed a reset during last night's 2024 announcement. So the text was deliberately low-key.
The big picture: Trump's delivery was so restrained, even languid, that it was widely derided as "low energy" — Trump's devastating jab at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2016 primaries.
The tightly scripted, staff-driven speech reflected Trump's weakened position post-midterms. None of the cocky swagger and energy of his 2016 announcement.
This was a nostalgic, glory-days speech — Trump playing the hits. He painted an apocalyptic picture of American decline under President Biden. But Trump has done this schtick so many times before that he seemed bored by the text.
It's not unusual for him to be bored by the words in his teleprompter. But his tone was flatter than usual. Even his ad-libs were low energy.
Behind the scenes: Trump advisers had pushed for the more disciplined approach after Trump found himself on the defensive after Republican midterm losses.
That prompted him to lash out with unhinged attacks on potential 2024 rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
The RGA Deals With Losses
Less than 200 miles to the south of the RGA’s meeting, Mr. Trump is preparing to announce a 2024 presidential bid Tuesday evening at his resort in Palm Beach, Fla. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican who easily won re-election last week, called that bad politics.
“Announcing you are running for president the week after a general election is just a terrible idea,” he said on the meeting’s sidelines. “It’s just not smart and can only be self-serving.”
Mr. Sununu, who is sometimes mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, said Mr. Trump shouldn’t be considered the GOP’s figurehead.
“He will never not be in the conversation, but his impact on the global voice of the Republican party, I think, it’s more minimal by the day,” he said. “It’s not negligible, but it’s decreasing.”
Mr. Sununu added: “I think the argument could definitely be made that Ron DeSantis is the front-runner to be president right now,” he said.
Mr. DeSantis is expected to speak to the RGA gathering on Tuesday evening, not long before Mr. Trump makes his announcement in Palm Beach…
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, an ally of Mr. Trump, on Monday let members know she was interested in running for re-election to her post. Mr. Sununu said he would be open to someone else serving in the top RNC role.
“If you stick with the exact same team, you are likely to get the exact same results,” he said. “I don’t think anybody thinks the results this past election were outstanding by any means.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem expressed significant skepticism Tuesday about Ms. McDaniel remaining in her post. “Who loses this much and gets to keep their job?” she said in an interview. “We’ve got to evaluate the leadership of the Republican Party.” …
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a past RGA chairman who is attending the meeting, said candidates who ran in the model of Mr. Trump were almost always unsuccessful this year.
“The candidates who lost were Trump candidates,” he said. “In my view, there were better alternatives, and it cost us.”
Mr. Christie said governor-race losses in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania also carry implications for the 2024 presidential race. “You can’t come up with an Electoral College map that can elect a Republican president without some combination of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania,” he said.
While past predictions of Mr. Trump’s political demise—including in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot—haven't materialized, Mr. Christie thinks this year’s electoral evidence is irrefutable and will sway more GOP officeholders and voters to distance themselves.
“The reason I think it’s different this time is because we now have six years of history that’s consistent,” he said. “In 2018, we lost the House. In 2020, we lost the Senate and the White House. And in 2021, we lost two Senate seats in Georgia that we should have won. Now, in 2022, we underperformed both historic norms and the atmosphere that was presented to us.” …
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who won re-election last week by almost 26 points, was less direct in his criticism of Mr. Trump, when asked about his responsibility for the GOP’s overall poor showing.
“It matters who candidates are,” he said. “It just matters who goes into that general election. You cannot win with a narrow base. You have to have the ability to get independents and some members of the other party.”
When asked if he thinks Mr. Trump understands that, Mr. DeWine responded, “I don’t know.”
Items of Interest
“If they will play fair I will play fair, but if they won't then I reserve all my rights to do anything I find myself able to do.”
— William Howard Taft