EVEN BY THE standards of Donald Trump’s career it has been a tough week, one of damaging revelations, brutal criticism and serial failure. So naturally on November 15th during prime time he announced he would run a fourth time for president, seeking to change the subject and stay ahead of potential opponents and an approaching armada of criminal and civil investigations.
“America has been mocked, derided, and brought to its knees, perhaps like never before,” Mr Trump said, appearing at his Mar-a-Lago club before a bank of American flags. Promising that America would become “a great nation again”, he said, “the decline of America is being forced on us by Joe Biden and the radical left lunatics.” His mien was sombre, glowering, as he described his own presidency as an Edenic period during which America was “vanquishing all rivals, striding into the future” and “everybody was thriving like never before”. Although he told a few whoppers, he did not dwell on his claims that the 2020 election was rigged, beyond suggesting that China somehow meddled in it.
Mr Trump’s announcement came just a week after midterm elections that Republican leaders widely saw as the third consecutive electoral repudiation of Mr Trump’s leadership since his own slender win in 2016. “The country showed it wants to move on,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote the morning Mr Trump announced, “but Mr Trump refuses—perhaps because he can’t admit to himself that he was a loser.” It warned that of the possible Republican candidates Mr Trump was the “most likely to produce a GOP loss and total power for the progressive left”.
Indeed, among the growing ranks of Mr Trump’s Republican critics it is a truism that Democrats most want him to run again, because of the damage he does to his own party. In the midterm elections most of the candidates he boosted in swing races lost. Just the day before he announced, Kari Lake, a charismatic former television presenter who promoted Mr Trump’s lies that he won the 2020 election, was projected to lose the Arizona governor’s race to a less dynamic but far more responsible Democrat, Katie Hobbs.
Sounding a defensive note, Mr Trump insisted that “the citizens of our country haven’t yet realised” how bad things are, but that “I have no doubt that by 2024 it will sadly be much worse.”
Though most Americans consistently tell pollsters they do not view the former president favourably, Mr Trump, who is 76, begins the campaign for the Republican nomination in pole position, as an experienced candidate with a powerful fundraising apparatus. The loyalty of his fervent supporters could secure him the nomination, particularly if several rivals were to split the opposing vote. Should Mr Trump lose the nomination, some Republicans fear he would refuse to concede—it has been known to happen—and then turn his supporters against the party’s standard-bearer.
An Economist/YouGov poll shows that Republicans and independents who lean Republican would prefer Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who easily won re-election during the midterms, to Mr Trump by 46% to 40%. Statewide polls by the conservative Club for Growth showed Mr DeSantis also leading Mr Trump by double digits in the two states that hold the first Republican primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire. They also showed Mr DeSantis ahead by 26 points in Florida, which is also Mr Trump’s home. The Club for Growth, a past ally of Mr Trump, clearly wanted to dissuade him from running. Its president, David McIntosh, said, “Republican primary voters recognise Trump’s insults against Republicans as hollow and counterproductive.”
In advance of his announcement Mr Trump attacked both Mr DeSantis and another potential rival, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, implicitly warning them of the treatment they could expect if they run. Neither man responded in kind, though when asked about Mr Trump’s criticism at a press conference on November 15th Mr DeSantis advised people “to go check out the scoreboard” from the midterms.
No one else is expected to announce a candidacy for months. Other possible runners include Mike Pompeo, who served as Mr Trump’s secretary of state, and Mike Pence, the former vice-president. Mr Pence told ABC on November 13th that Mr Trump had “endangered me and my family and everyone at the Capitol building” with his “reckless” speech to the protesters who attacked the Capitol on January 6th, 2021.
Also on November 13th the New York Times reported that a former chief of staff to Mr Trump, John F. Kelly, said Mr Trump wanted the Internal Revenue Service to investigate people he saw as enemies. Then, on November 14th, a House committee investigating the former president revealed that six foreign nations spent more than $750,000 at his Washington hotel while trying to influence his foreign policy. Mr Trump is also under investigation by federal and state authorities over his actions leading up to January 6th, his business dealings, his attempts to overturn election results and his failure to return classified documents after he left the White House. The announcement of his candidacy complicates at least some of these investigations.■