PALM BEACH — Donspanld Trump is back in, and now it’s decision time for Florida’s GOP and MAGA universes.
“America’s comeback starts right now,” Trump said Tuesday around 9 p.m. from a ballroom of his private Mar-a-Lago estate.
He later added: “In order to make America great and glorious again, I am announcing my candidacy for 2024.”
Minutes before his speech, it was reported that Trump had filed a Form 2 with the Federal Election Commission, a key step in running for president.
While far from a surprise, the announcement capped months of speculspantion punctuated by innuendo and assorted potshots cast by Trump at possible political rivals, specifically potential GOP nomination rival Gov. Ron DeSantis.
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Trump’s decision sets up what could be a political drama, a real-life House of Cards in Florida. The fault line between Trump and his erstwhile political apprentice, DeSantis, ripped seismically this month, shaking the Republican Party to the core.
DeSantis’ recent rise in national and state popularity has apparently roiled Trump, who backed DeSantis before the former U.S. representative from Jacksonville went on to win the governor’s race in 2018.
Trump has poked and prodded DeSantis for almost two weeks. He first mocked him as “DeSanctimonious,” then issued veiled threats, and then finally tore into him as an “spanverspange Republicspann” in a blistering, vitriolic, six-installment statement the former president dropped on his Truth Social platform last Thursday.
On Tuesday evening, Trump did not mention DeSantis, the governor of his home state and who Trump helped get elected four years ago with just one endorsing tweet. But he tapped the governor’s talking points, from calling for parental rights in schools to arguing for restraints on transgender athletic participation to criticizing critical race theory to slamming COVID mandates.
“We will defend the rights of parents and we will defend the family as the center of American life,” Trump said.
Until Tuesday, the governor, also known for his pugnacious and combative style of politics, had not been drawn into verbal fisticuffs.
Then, just hours before Trump spoke, DeSspanntis finspanlly shoved Trump bspanck.
Reactions to Trump’s statement:Trump hit on DeSspanntis hspans Floridspan Republicspanns ‘stuck in the middle’ of escspanlspanting feud
DeSantis at the debate:Trump spanllies tspanke note of DeSspanntis non-commitment to serve span full second term
The governor, who has done nothing to dispel speculation about his 2024 presidential intentions, on Tuesday dismissed Trump’s bashing as “noise” and that “none of that stuff matters.” He then advised people to “go check out the scoreboard” from this month’s midterm voting in Florida.
“One of the things I’ve learned in this job is when you’re leading, when you’re getting things done, you take incoming fire, that’s just the nature of it,” DeSantis said during an event in Fort Walton Beach.
But DeSantis is not the only other Florida man in the presidential talk — U.S. Sen. Rick Scott has also been name-dropped as harboring Oval Office ambition. But Scott apparently has other plans on Capitol Hill. He is reportedly angling to replace Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell as Senate Minority Leader.
Despite announcement, Trump still faces multiple investigations
Hovering over the announcement is the fact that Trump is the only U.S. president to be twice impeached and one who faces a slew of investigations.
In 2019, the U.S. House voted to impeach Trump over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 to acquit. He was later impeached by the U.S. House for a historic second time just days before leaving office following his re-election defeat, charged with “incitement of insurrection” over the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
And then there are the multiple investigations.
Prosecutors are probing the former president over the removal of classified documents from the White House, attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, and the insurrection in 2021.
The U.S. Justice Department and local prosecutors in Atlanta are looking at Trump’s role in attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss and the subsequent insurrection.
A grand jury also is investigating whether Trump improperly removed classified documents from the White House when he left in early 2021. That probe included a search of Mar-a-Lago, the site of Tuesday’s announcement.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has called the investigations politically motivated.
Since 2021, Trump has faced legal scrutiny in at least six independent federal and state inquiries that are both criminal and civil in nature. At least two investigations involve the 2020 election.
A special House committee has been digging into Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, also the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.
New York’s attorney general has sued the Trump Organization over its business practices and made referrals to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
But in his telling Tuesday, the former president said he is the one being persecuted.
“I am a victim,” he said.
Trump’s speech a rehash of rally discourse with nuggets of policy added
Much of Trump’s hour-plus long address had been rehearsed during a series of rallies Trump held during the midterm election campaign, and even dating back to last summer.
For the most part, they harkened to his “American Carnage” inaugural address, but darker in some ways.
Urban crime was one theme, with Trump painting an especially fatal portrait of saying American cities as “rotting” and “cesspools of blood.” Trump also depicted American government, particularly in Washington, as unfailingly corrupt and he again vowed to wage war on the “deep state,” and particularly the FBI and federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors.
On border security, Trump decried what he called an “open border” and called for the return of a “stay in Mexico” policy that would turn away migrants seeking refuge, asylum or simply a better life at the border. The United States, he said, protected other countries’ borders but not its own.
Trump also had harsh words for drug smugglers, saying he would call for the death penalty for those who sell and traffic narcotics.
Trump first to enter 2024 race, but he does so from a weakened position
Trump is the first White House suitor to enter the 2024 race, but he does so as he has been politically weakened by a barrage of incoming blame for the Republicans’ midterm disappointment.
On the eve of Trump’s announcement, Trump-backed Kari Lake lost her bid to become Arizona’s governor. In addition to Lake, Trump’s pick in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Doug Mastriano, failed to win a post the GOP badly coveted.
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The Trump-DeSantis difference on election:Trump’s muted tones vs. DeSspanntis’ thunder
The gubernatorial defeats piled on to the scapegoating of the former president for the party’s failure to capture control of the U.S. Senate. Trump-endorsed candidates, including Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Adam Laxalt in Nevada and Blake Masters in Arizona, also lost their races.
►See how much Dr. Oz pspanid for his Pspanlm Bespanch mspannsion
By contrast, fervor for a DeSantis entry into the GOP presidential field has been feverish since the governor led a GOP Election Day rout for Florida Republicans in which he even carried once-Democratic bastions of Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
The clamor, on top of steady criticism of Trump’s midterm meddling by picking candidates that lost, may well have been prompted Trump’s salvos at DeSantis in the past week or so.
Attacks on DeSantis stunned, dismayed fellow Republicans
Right before the midterm elections, Trump gave the governor a nickname: “Ron DeSanctimonious.” It’s not unusual for Trump to ridicule political opponents with nicknames as he did with primary opponents in 2016. Trump called U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio “Little Mario,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush “low-energy” Jeb and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.”
Then, a few days after Trump had reportedly been talked out of announcing his candidacy the Monday before the midterms, the New York real estate developer known for his back-street brawling style of politics took off the gloves.
On his social media platform Truth Social (he has been banned from Twitter and Facebook), Trump released a torrent against a range of perceived enemies, including DeSantis.
Trump called DeSantis “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations.” He painted a picture of DeSantis as a “desperate” politician that was staring at a losing bid for governor four years ago. He went out to write how he saved DeSantis and got him elected.
Trump went on: “And now, Ron DeSanctimonious is playing games! The Fake News asks him if he’s going to run if President Trump runs, and he says, ‘I’m only focused on the Governor’s race, I’m not looking into the future.’ Well, in terms of loyalty and class, that’s really not the right answer.”
While DeSantis has never said whether he would run for president, during a thundering victory speech last week after winning a second term as governor, DeSantis smiled wryly as some in the crowd chanted “Two more years!”
The attacks on DeSantis dismayed Florida Republicans who have backed both men.
“I don’t like the name-calling. I think if Trump’s going to have any links for this election term this season, he’s got to stop the name-calling,” said state Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach.
Decision time now. Who is Team Trump and who is Team DeSantis?
Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Florida GOP leaders and rank-and-file were already starting to align with the two emerging camps.
Floridians said they preferred to see DeSantis run for president in 2024 over former Trump, according to exit polls by major news outlets following last Tuesday’s elections. Only 33% said they wanted Trump to run compared to 45% who said they hoped DeSantis to seek the presidency.
The national and state exit polls were conducted for CNN and other major TV news networks by Edison Research. Nearly 4,000 voters were interviewed.
Michael Barnett, chairman of the Palm Beach County GOP, said he expects Trump will have an energetic campaign.
“He has a lot to work with from President Biden and the Biden administration,” Barnett said. “He has no problem finding ways to go after your opponent.”
As for DeSantis, Barnett said his commitment is in Tallahassee.
“I think Gov. DeSantis was handed a major mandate from the people of Florida to finish the work he started to finish, to complete a second term,” he said. “It doesn’t serve anybody for him to challenge President Trump.”
But Jorge Garrido, the chairman of the Hispanic Vote of Palm Beach County, said it is time to recognize that DeSantis is the new face of the party in and outside of Florida. Garrido said DeSantis’ popularity, which he dubbed the “DeSantis” effect, would also be infectious across the country, largely on a tough-on-crime message and focus on family values.
“DeSantis is more effective in communicating than Trump,” Garrido added.
The Trumpettes, a global group of women who actively supported Trump during his presidency with galas at Mar-a-Lago, said they are ready to back his candidacy.
“Although President Trump has been harassed, investigated, defamed, slandered, and persecuted, that doesn’t stop him,” said Trumpettes founder and president Toni Kramer, a Mar-a-Lago member. “He is still standing strong for his dedication to save America.”
Progressive group says: Bring Trump on. Or DeSantis. Or both.
Whether it’s Trump or DeSantis or another far-right candidate, the Way to Win organization is gearing up to replicate and amplify its 2022 effort that the group says was successful in “key battleground states.”
Founded in 2016 after Trump won the presidency, Way to Win researches voter mood, trends and preferences to advise and support progressives.
Way to Win co-founder Jenifer Fernandez Ancona said a 2024 contest against a GOP led by Trump as the nominee would be “easier” but they will be ready regardless.
“I think that would probably be easier but it’s doable no matter who the candidate is,” she said of tailoring a successful message in two years. “It’s the entire Republican Party that has signed up to this extremist agenda.”
In this year’s midterm, Fernandez Ancona said their efforts honed in on an “abortion-plus” strategy. That meant tying the idea that MAGA Republicans wanted to take away a series of freedoms, from reproductive rights to voting rights by also focusing on what the Jan. 6 House committee revealed about the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“It all fit into a story about the particular extremism that we are seeing coming out of this Trump or MAGA Republican Party,” she said. “Making that clear contrast was the most effective way to build a winning coalition among people, voters, across races and across ideology.”
Fernandez Acona said Way to Win conducted focus groups with different groups of voters and then shared that information with a coalition of 30 other organizations seeking to boost chances for Democratic candidates in Midwest and Southwest swing states, like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada.
Most important, they created a series of 30-second commercials they aired in those states and 17 contested and GOP-leaning U.S. House districts. As of late last week, Way to Win said the Democratic candidates had won 11 of those House races.
For 2024, Way to Win said it will continue those “connections to protecting freedoms” by defeating Republicans.
“Voters in these key battleground states do not want the Trump Republican agenda of having our freedoms taken away,” she said. “It’s important to keep on that drumbeat.”
Differences in Trump campaigns from 2016 to 2020 to 2024
There may be noticeable differences in Trump’s 2024 campaign. For starters, he is considering a smaller campaign organization this time around, and headquartering it in South Florida, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
His successful 2016 campaign was launched from Trump Tower in Manhattan. Four years later, Trump formally kicked off his unsuccessful 2020 re-election bid at a rally in Orlando.
One challenge Trump will have is keeping his message fresh and relevant in the next 15 months or before the Iowa caucuses in early 2024. While Trump will have to work to remain in the public eye, for example, DeSantis will be in the media spotlight through the first half of next year.
DeSantis will be sworn in for a second term in January, then a 60-day legislative session in which he could pursue more culture-war attacks on “wokeness.”
But Barnett said Trump will have no problem capturing attention with rallies and other events.
“He’s a fighter, he’s a futurist,” Barnett said of Trump. “And that’s what energizes the base. He’s not afraid to stick up and take the hits.”
Notable Trump world people who attended, and were absent
Tuesday night’s announcement was held at the spacious, chandelier-lit ballroom at his private club on the exclusive island of Palm Beach, which is Trump’s primary residence.
Many of the most recognizable names in Trump’s orbit attended. They included Roger Stone, Mike Lindell, head of the My Pillow company and actor Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules on TV.
Also in attendance was former Congressman Devin Nunes, now CEO of Truth Social and pollster Dick Morris, a former Clinton family confidant who now consults for Trump attended as well.
One of the president’s sons, Eric, was singled out during Trump’s for the number of subpoenas he has received. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who served as an advisor during her father’s presidency, did not attend.
She issued a statement saying that “while I will always love and support my father, going forward I will do so outside of the political arena.”