Former President Donald Trump is expected to launch a third consecutive bid for the White House. Trump will deliver remarks at his Mar-a-Lago estate amid his family and supporters. Some Republicans are not thrilled with the possibility of a Trump 2024 run, calling for him to step aside as potential candidates like Ron DeSantis explore a potential run. Trump still has a strong following from the Republican Party, though his influence is likely to be tested over the next two years.
Alex Leary; November 15, 2022
PALM BEACH, Fla.—Donald Trump is poised to launch a third consecutive White House bid, aiming to reaffirm his position as the Republican standard-bearer despite disappointing midterm election results that have led some party leaders to suggest the polarizing former president step aside.
Mr. Trump, who has set a 9 p.m. Tuesday announcement from his Mar-a-Lago estate, has fired back in recent days at intraparty critics and potential rivals for the nomination, primarily Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose overwhelming re-election win Tuesday confirmed his standing as the leading current alternative to Mr. Trump.
Despite signs of dissatisfaction with Mr. Trump, he enjoys broad grass-roots support, has tens of millions in campaign cash and a history of steamrolling competitors. He has reshaped the GOP demographically, attracting more working-class voters, and has fundamentally shifted the party’s policy approaches on trade, China, immigration and other issues.
Now, at age 76, he appears determined to avenge his 2020 loss to Joe Biden, who turns 80 on Sunday and has indicated he wants to seek a second term. Mr. Trump continues to claim widespread voter fraud in that election. There was no evidence of such fraud, and Mr. Trump’s campaign and its allies lost multiple lawsuits seeking to overturn the results.
“We’re taking back that beautiful house,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania days before the midterm election.
No former president in the modern era has attempted such a comeback; the last successful one was Grover Cleveland, who was denied re-election in 1888 but rebounded in 1892.
Mr. Trump is launching a new campaign while facing several legal entanglements, including investigations into his business dealings, his involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 results and the Justice Department’s criminal probe into presidential records and documents labeled classified he stored at Mar-a-Lago.
The announcement would put the Justice Department into the tricky position of investigating the declared opponent of President Biden, who selected Attorney General Merrick Garland in part for his promise to keep the agency free of partisan influence.
Senior Justice Department officials, aware that a Trump candidacy will test that independence, are contemplating how to proceed with investigations involving the former president, people familiar with the matter said, including whether to appoint a special counsel to oversee the unprecedented inquiry into his handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
A special counsel appointed by Mr. Garland could have broad discretion over the inquiry, even though Mr. Garland and other senior officials still would be involved in any decision about whether to prosecute Mr. Trump or his aides. An appointment would provide what some current and former department officials believe would be protection against allegations that a decision to charge Mr. Trump would be politically motivated. Others caution against such a move, saying it would set an unnecessary precedent of appointing outsiders to handle any sensitive investigation.
Mr. Trump has said he did nothing wrong with the documents and cast it as an attempt to wound him politically. He has raised millions of dollars off fundraising emails around the probe and other controversies.
His main political committee had about $70 million in the bank as of mid-October, which could be transferred to a newer super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., which faces fewer restrictions on its spending. That money can’t be transferred into a new presidential campaign account, but could be used on advertising and other political activities to boost his candidacy.
Mr. Trump wanted to declare his candidacy over the summer, according to several people familiar with the discussions. He held off on the advice of aides who said it could distract from GOP chances of taking control of Congress. Mr. Trump nearly made the announcement at an election eve rally in Ohio, seeking to capitalize on what many thought would be a Republican wave.
But Democrats have hung onto the Senate, even before a Dec. 6 runoff election in Georgia, and the expected GOP majority in the House will be smaller than anticipated. That has led to finger-pointing and questions about some of Mr. Trump’s high-profile endorsements and overall role in shaping the political climate. In turn, he has blamed party leaders such as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Sensing a threat by the 44-year-old Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Trump has steadily increased attacks on him, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious” and “an average Republican governor with great public relations.” The governor built a national profile battling the Biden administration on Covid-19 policies and driving cultural issues.
Other potential Republican contenders include Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin—who has also been the target of criticism from Mr. Trump in recent days—former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Mr. Trump has become convinced he can beat Mr. Biden, aides say, and got more serious about the idea during the current administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in summer 2021. That episode, along with persistent inflation and broader voter pessimism about the country’s direction, have weakened Mr. Biden’s standing.
The Democrat feels emboldened by the midterm results, aides say, and he believes he can defeat Mr. Trump again. A Wall Street Journal poll conducted in late October found Messrs. Trump and Biden tied at 46% apiece in a hypothetical 2024 matchup.
Mr. Trump has been assembling what could be a campaign team in waiting. Among those working for MAGA Inc. include executive director Taylor Budowich, Mr. Trump’s communications director, pollster Tony Fabrizio and strategist Chris LaCivita. Susie Wiles, who oversaw Mr. Trump’s winning Florida campaigns in 2016 and 2020, is also expected to have a top role in any campaign.
There are signs of Mr. Trump’s weakened grip on the party.
An NBC News poll released just before the election found that three out of 10 Republicans identified themselves more a supporter of Mr. Trump than the GOP, down from 40% in summer 2021. Meanwhile, the share of people identifying as more supporters of the GOP than Mr. Trump increased over the same time, from 50% to 62%.
Aides to Mr. Trump say they are confident he can ward off opponents, just as he bested a large group of Republicans in 2016. They have urged him to avoid focusing on the 2020 results and to focus more on issues. In late July he gave a speech on crime policy.
“I’ve told him if you want to talk about the past, talk about the past but what we want to do is make people nostalgic and hungry for your record of accomplishments, particularly before Covid,” said adviser Kellyanne Conway. “They want to get back to that economy, that feeling of optimism and financial wherewithal.”
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP