WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — He’s back.
Following months of dropping hints regarding another run for the White House, former President Donald Trump officially debuted his 2024 presidential campaign at his South Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night.
Though Trump is the first major Republican contender to throw his hat in the ring, his announcement comes as the GOP is reeling from a lackluster midterm outing, and some in the party are weighing dumping the former president for rising star Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
A master showman, Trump had teased a “very big announcement” from Mar-a-Lago for weeks. At the time, some allies urged him to hold off on formally announcing his bid until after the midterms as a precaution against surging Democrat turnout that would likely coincide with Trump reclaiming the political spotlight. Trump formally filed his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday evening before his speech.
Invitations for the event were circulated in the days following the midterm elections, and reporters and Trump supporters alike descended on West Palm Beach in droves over the weekend.
Prior to the announcement, Mar-a-Lago staff served the waiting press, cordoned off from the president’s supporters in a separate media filing center, with “TRUMP” branded water bottles and gold cocktail napkins. The guest list itself featured a laundry list of Trump world VIPs, including MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, GETTR CEO Jason Miller, actor Kevin Sorbo, Roger Stone, Sebastian Gorka, and outgoing Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC). Cawthorn, who lost his Republican primary race this past summer, is believed to be the sole Republican congressman to attend Trump’s event.
Boris Epshteyn, a veteran adviser to Trump both on the campaign trail and in the White House, briefly visited the filing center around 5:00 p.m. and told press the Trump team was extremely “excited.”
Last Monday, as rumors swirled that Trump might preempt the midterm elections with his 2024 campaign, the GOP was jubilant, widely expected to snap up a smashing victory, enabling him to launch on a high note. Then election night happened.
Following the midterms, the political mood within the GOP has dampened and a growing public chorus of doubt about Trump has begun to fester. Some have blamed Trump for the red wave implosion arguing he elevated poor candidates or fueled Democratic ammunition with his slash-and-dash style of politics.
Needled by a brewing mini GOP revolt, Trump has unleashed a torrent of scathing attacks against Republicans who have voiced concerns with him such as Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears. He has gone especially nuclear on DeSantis, who was buoyed by a sweeping red wave in Florida and a landslide victory in his own re-election race following months of bucking the Biden administration’s COVID-19 agenda.
Polling has pegged Trump as the top contender in a hypothetical GOP presidential primary, yet DeSantis has started to overtake Trump in some early state polls. Before the midterm elections concluded, Trump dusted off his nickname denigration routine and beta-tested the attack phrase “DeSanctimonious” against the Florida governor.
Trump gleefully deployed the nickname denigration ploy against his 2016 primary rivals during his first campaign before bulldozing through them and later his political enemies as president. DeSantis has been largely mum on the broadsides and any presidential ambitions, but did take a thinly veiled swipe at Trump during his own Tuesday press conference.
Asked about some of the attacks launched at him by Trump as of late, DeSantis said that as governor, he’s learned to expect “incoming fire.”
“I think what you learn is all of that is just noise, and really what matters is are you leading, are you getting in front of issues, are you delivering results for people, and are you standing up for folks,” he continued. “At the end of the day I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night.”
Furthermore, following the GOP’s underwhelming election night, some of the most loyal MAGA Republican lawmakers and former Trump administration officials have suggested they don’t want him to run again.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is also believed to be preparing his own 2024 bid, stated during a Monday interview on ABC that the country will “have better choices in the future” than another Trump presidency.
“People in this country actually get along pretty well once you get out of politics,” he told David Muir. “I think they want to see their national leader start to reflect that same, that same compassion and generosity of spirit. And I think, so in the days ahead, I think there will be better choices.”
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, has been more forthcoming than most Republicans about his own presidential ambitions this coming cycle, and said in an interview Tuesday morning that Trump’s announcement wouldn’t stop him from running his own campaign.
“We’re trying to think our way through, figuring out what’s next for us,” he told Hugh Hewitt. “What happens today or tomorrow, what some other person decides won’t have any impact on that.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of Trump’s fiercest allies on Capitol Hill, also canceled his plans to fly south Tuesday evening to attend the Mar-a-Lago event, citing poor weather in Washington, D.C. as the reason he would not attend.
Still, even if some Republican elites are distancing themselves from the former president, his south Florida supporters haven’t lost their zeal.
“I’m so excited,” one Palm beach hotel manager told the Washington Examiner Tuesday morning of Trump’s pending candidacy. “I’m expecting a huge banner announcement on TV.”
An even more overt group of Trump supporters, bearing 2024 flags and other items frequently seen at the former president’s larger rallies, began setting up camp on Bingham Island within a stone’s throw of Mar-a-Lago’s southern gate just after 11:00am on Tuesday.
Debbie Macchia, one of the group’s informal organizers, described herself to the Washington Examiner as both a Trump and DeSantis voter and said “you don’t have to have an Oxford degree” to understand that the media and parts of Republican leadership are trying to make “a political thing” out of Don and Ron’s relationship.
“They’re just trying to screw with everybody’s mind,” she said in an interview. “A good portion believe that a Trump-DeSantis ticket is a 100% win. Period. So pitting each other against each other just doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’re one party, both policies are fairly equal, so we should all be working together as one group.”
William Jackson, a Trump supporter in Macchia’s group who claimed to hail from President Joe Biden’s childhood home of Claymont, Delaware, suggested he doesn’t really care who sits atop the ticket, as long as Republicans oust Biden from the White House.
Jackson told the Washington Examiner that he is a firm believer in the QAnon conspiracy theories — he called them a military operation launched by President John F. Kennedy — and he thinks the man in the White House is not actually Joseph R. Biden.
“He threw the opening pitch out at our Little League games, and I was always either a coach or an umpire, and so I went through the line and shook the man’s hand, and he had blue eyes,” Jackson stated. “The man that I’m seeing give speeches, he has really, really dark eyes. Not even brown, they’re like black.”
After Jackson’s proclamation, Macchia made sure to tell the Washington Examiner that while some Trump supporters believe in QAnon, she does not subscribe to “those conspiracy theories.”
Biden himself has expressed his “intention” to run for a second term while maintaining that a formal decision has not been made. Whispers of consternation over a Biden reelection campaign circulated among Democrats prior to the 2022 elections.
Asked by reporters during his post-election press conference about a potential Trump-DeSantis showdown, Biden simply responded, “it’d be fun watching them take on each other.”
At times visibly agitated by his 2020 defeat, Trump has repeatedly denied that his loss was legitimate. He has bemoaned that the election was “rigged” and “stolen” from him, amplifying allegations of fraud that Democratic and some Republican detractors claim threatens democracy. Election officials and the courts have roundly rejected claims of widespread fraud.
“Now our country is being destroyed. I ran twice. I won twice and I did much better the second time than I did the first,” Trump proclaimed at a rally days before the 2022 elections in Miami. Trump lost 232 to Biden’s 30 in the Electoral College. DeSantis was noticeably absent at that Miami rally, which featured Sunshine State GOP stars such as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL).
Trump’s announcement comes weeks before the Georgia Senate runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Republican Herschel Walker. The outstanding race gives Democrats the chance to expand their Senate majority beyond the previous 50-50 split with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker.
The Republican National Committee’s chairwoman has insisted the group would be unable to foot his legal bills once he declares. Trump is facing a plethora of investigations and inquiries, including those looming over his business empire, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and handling of sensitive government documents.
You can watch Trump’s entire announcement speech below.
Sarah Westwood contributed to this report.