PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would again seek the Republican nomination for president in 2024, despite multiple ongoing investigations into his conduct, stinging midterm election losses for candidates he endorsed and mounting criticism from members of his own party.
"America's comeback starts right now," Trump declared during a meandering speech given from a ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago country club and home, adding, "Two years ago we were a great nation, and soon we will be a great nation again."
"In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States," he later added.
Trump enters the race as a Republican powerhouse and the likely frontrunner to win the GOP nomination for a third consecutive time. His latest campaign comes just two years after he lost the presidential election to Joe Biden and falsely claimed that the contest had been rigged against him, leading his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, to stage a violent insurrection at the Capitol in an attempt to block the peaceful transfer of power.
On Tuesday, without evidence, Trump suggested the Chinese government had intervened in the last election in order to keep him from being reelected and imposing tariffs on Chinese goods.
"Many people think that because of this, China played a very active role in the 2020 election — just saying, just saying," he said.
In his speech, Trump sought to portray the country as having slipped into crisis since his departure from the White House.
"All they had to do," he said of the Biden administration, "was just sit back and watch. Inflation was nonexistent, our southern border was by far the strongest ever, and because the border was so tight, drugs were coming into our country at the lowest level in many, many years."
As the first candidate to enter the 2024 presidential race, Trump is attempting to seize the national spotlight again after a week of harsh criticism from Republican politicians and pundits. They blame him for midterm election losses that cost the GOP both control of the U.S. Senate and a wider margin of victory in the House of Representatives. In dozens of statewide races, candidates who parroted his claims of a stolen election in 2020, such as Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Kari Lake, went down to defeat.
The poor performance of candidates endorsed by Trump almost instantly led Republicans to cast their gaze upon his apparent rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won his reelection bid on Nov. 8 by a stunning 20-point margin. Some Republicans pointed to the midterms as a sign that the party should move on from the former president.
Trump insisted on holding his event Tuesday, ignoring pleas from current and former advisers to delay it until after the Georgia runoff election for Senate between the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, and the Trump-backed Republican nominee, Herschel Walker. This put the former president at odds with many of his own allies, and also created a conflict for many of his top surrogates in Congress, who had spent the day in the Capitol battling over leadership posts and over who would control their respective caucuses. By the time most Republican lawmakers had finished private meetings late Tuesday afternoon, it was already too late to catch last-minute flights to Florida.
Instead of a show of in-person support from Republican congressional leaders — or GOP governors, many of whom gathered earlier in the day in nearby Orlando at a meeting of the the Republican Governors Association — Tuesday’s announcement was attended by such notable right-wing personalities as My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell; conservative radio host Eric Metaxas; Richard Grenell, former acting director of U.S. national intelligence; and Russel Vought, former head of the Office of Management and Budget under Trump.
“DeSantis is young. He can wait,” Metaxas told Yahoo News regarding whether the Florida governor should seek the presidency in 2024.
Other attendees included Sebastian Gorka, the conservative media personality who served briefly as a White House adviser, and Roger Stone, the notorious political operative Trump pardoned in 2020 who first stoked his political ambitions four decades ago.
Stone said Trump would pick off his potential GOP rivals in the coming campaign, much as he had done in 2016.
"I don’t think his chief opponent can stand too much scrutiny," Stone said of DeSantis, adding, "If he wants to run, let him run."
As the eclectic crowd arrived at Mar-a-Lago and mingled beneath a large "Make America Great Again" banner, one of the few Republican elected officials in attendance was Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who lost his 2022 Republican primary. And little more than an hour before the event began, Arkansas’s Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson made it known that he would not be supporting Trump in the coming cycle.
As we expect an announcement from Mar-a-Lago tonight it is important to welcome new voices and ideas for our future. I intend to be one of those leaders working for solutions to the serious challenges ahead.
— Gov. Asa Hutchinson (@AsaHutchinson) November 16, 2022
To be sure, Trump's latest campaign is taking off in stormy weather, with condemnation from establishment Republicans and conservative media pouring down on the former president since last week’s midterm elections.
But those were the same conditions that met him on the runway in 2015, when pollsters and pundits predicted his imminent demise. And so the mood at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday evening was uncommonly sunny, the feeling closer to that of a renegade campaign about to launch than of a defeated former president making one final run for the White House.
Yet Trump, who filed FEC paperwork confirming his candidacy Tuesday, will still have to win enough Republican primary contests to secure the delegates needed to win the nomination when GOP leaders meet in Milwaukee for their 2024 convention. And he could still face a series of challengers who could peel away support. Not least of these is his former vice president, Mike Pence, whose life was threatened by Trump supporters during the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after Trump, on Twitter, expressed publicly how angry he was with Pence for refusing to help him overturn his 2020 election loss.
Since launching his first presidential run in 2015, the former reality TV star and New York real estate developer, now 76, has massively reshaped the Republican Party. Once dominated by free-market economic conservatives and national defense hawks who supported a powerful U.S. presence on the global stage, the GOP is now controlled by Trump-aligned populists pushing for an American withdrawal from the international stage in favor of domestic retrenchment.
In the eyes of his critics, Trump not only coarsened American politics, he sought to sidestep acceptable conventions of discourse in the political arena and to insist on demonstrably false claims. More than any other president in the modern era, his tenure in office was marked by scandal and constant upheaval. He was investigated after Russia aided his successful 2016 election. He was then impeached in 2019, after threatening to withhold millions of dollars in defense aid to Ukraine unless officials there investigated Biden's son Hunter. And he was impeached for a second time in 2021 after his supporters attacked the Capitol in an attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss.
Through it all, Trump has nevertheless retained the seemingly unshakable backing of a distinct plurality of voters on the right, who side both with his unwaveringly combative tone and with his promises to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country. For his staunchest supporters, impeachments and federal and state investigations are simply proof of Trump’s persistent claims that he has been unfairly targeted by a “deep state” of federal bureaucrats and law enforcement personnel.
Trump can also take credit for delivering conservatives some of their most long-sought prizes, including nominating three of the Supreme Court justices who delivered, in June, on overturning Roe v. Wade and ending constitutional protection for access to abortion. He also pushed through a massive restructuring of the federal tax code.
When Trump ran in 2016 against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — after defeating a boatload of Republican candidates in the primaries — he made the FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server for sensitive government work one of his top rallying cries. That helped him score a stunning upset in that year’s presidential election.
Seven years later, it’s Trump who faces a string of criminal investigations. They include a civil lawsuit in New York over his company’s finances; another state-level probe in Georgia over his attempts to overturn his election loss there; and a federal probe of the top-secret documents he took with him to Mar-a-Lago, his home in Florida, after leaving the White House in 2021.
During Tuesday's speech, the former president didn't dwell on those potential legal challenges. Instead, he framed them as being politically motivated.
"I'm a victim, I will tell you, I'm a victim," he said of the Mar-a-Lago documents inquiry.
Indeed, the obstacles Trump faces when it comes to winning a second term may well extend beyond vanquishing any Republican primary challengers and winning a general election. Shortly before he addressed his supporters Tuesday, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., circulated a draft of a legislation he will soon file that would bar Trump from "holding office again under the Fourteenth Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution.
Section 3 of that amendment bars those who have "engaged in insurrection" from holding office.