What former President Donspanld Trump says tonight could well be more headline fodder than what he announces.
Trump is widely expected to finally state from his Mar-a-Lago club that he is launching a 2024 comeback campaign for the White House. He has been hinting, teasing, suggesting — an entire thesaurus worth of synonyms for signaling — his intentions since a late February 2021 speech at a conservative political action summit in Orlando.
Trump publicly designated Tuesday evening as the time and place for letting the country know his plans. During a rally in Ohio a week ago, he said he would make a “very big announcement” on Nov. 15.
Since then, however, the ex-president hspans been relentlessly firing brospandsides toward an entire slate of political foes, from Florida’s freshly re-elected governor to the leading conservative media outlets, while stoking conspiracies of election irregularities from Arizona to Michigan.
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That’s on top of new confrontations with some of his long-standing bogeymen, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reports say the former president is angling to topple as leader of the chamber’s GOP caucus. And as he works to swat away new inner-circle dramas — another set of reports said he had scapegoated Melania Trump and Fox News personality Sean Hannity for one of the numerous midterm election defeats that have been pinned squarely on Trump’s lapels.
The disputes, the vitriol on social media, the intra-party feuding, all cast renewed anxiety about the substance of The Announcement. Is it about settling scores and airing grievances? Or is it about trumpeting a new campaign theme and direction for the country?
A Miami-based political strategist and network commentator said Trump’s long-established penchant to “make it all about himself” is one reason so many conservatives say they want the GOP to look elsewhere for leadership rather than, again, line up in lockstep behind Trump in the march to 2024.
“He’s become an absolute distraction. It’s weird now,” said Gianno Caldwell, a Miami-based political analyst for Fox News, one of the media outlets Trump slammed last week. “We need someone who is going to unite the party and move us forward and not divide us.”
Signs of eroding support are visible, even in Trump’s Florida
How widespread that sentiment is shared is unknown. Especially in his home state of Florida, once referred to as the “Trumpiest” place in America because of Trump’s high popularity among Republicans and others.
In 2020, Trump carried the Sunshine State by 3.4%. Prior to that, during his presidency, he regularly enjoyed popularity ratings in the 90% range among Florida Republicans. He has undoubtedly been the catalyst for driving the state’s flip from a purple swing state to a crimson-red “America First” model for the country.
Signs of continued loyal fervent among the Trump base abounded at the many rallies and political events for Republican candidates leading up to Tuesday’s vote.
“If Trump came in and said, ‘I’m going to stay the president for the next 20 years,’ I would support him all the way,” said Jacqueline Baust while attending a rally for Gov. Ron DeSantis in Boynton Beach this month. “I think everything Trump has done for our country and for the people in the world is like a blessing and he’s the greatest president we’ve ever had.”
But there are indications Trump’s support has seen some erosion, and often around questions of electability and likeability.
At this past July’s Sunshine Summit of GOP leaders, party organizers and donors openly voiced their preference for DeSantis, who some said had less baggage. And a Data for Progress poll this month of Florida GOP voters put DeSantis ahead of Trump, 44% to 42%, in a head-to-head primary matchup.
Others at the DeSantis rally in Boynton Beach stated their preference for DeSantis if the governor were to seek the 2024 nomination.
Bonnie Cermak said she embraced the governor’s “parental rights in education” measures in particular. Besides, she said, ideologically speaking, DeSantis and Trump are on the same page.
“I think they believe in the same thing,” Cermak said. “It’s just that one has a smoother personality. DeSantis would probably get more votes from neutral people because he has a more likable personality.”
Pedro Ortega of West Palm Beach didn’t even hesitate when asked.
“It would definitely be DeSantis,” Ortega said.
Trump has publicly resented the favorable spotlight being cast on DeSantis following the governor’s electoral rout last week.
“Now that the Election in Florida is over, and everything went quite well, shouldn’t it be said that in 2020, I got 1.1 Million more votes in Florida than Ron D got this year, 5.7 Million to 4.6 Million?” he posted on his Truth Social platform last week.
In 2022, Trump attacked ‘communist’ Democrats. What’s he got for 2024?
Another question surrounding Trump is: Can the former president refresh his political message?
Trump barnstormed the country during the midterm elections. On the final weekend, he rallied Ohio and Pennsylvania, sandwiching an event in Miami in between.
In his speeches, generally in the 90-minute range, he called Democrats “radical left lunatics” and “communists.”
He also spent broad segments of time offering his version of the many scandals swirling around him. Those included the New York state financial probe, an investigation of his January 2021 phone call to Georgia elections officials seeking votes, the FBI seizure of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and the impending report by the House committee investigating his role in the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol.
Trump also wove in renewed American carnage themes from 2016. The litany included the country’s “humiliating” withdrawal from Afghanistan, spiraling inflation, a porous border where smugglers traffic in deadly fentanyl and human victims alike.
Even this seemingly dark assessment for the upcoming holiday: “Don’t expect a turkey on Thanksgiving,” he said. “Number one, you can’t get them. Number two, if you can get them, you’re going to pay three times more than you did last year.”
Dystopia appeals to the base, but wasn’t enough for GOP midterm wins
The dystopian narrative is a magnet for Trump’s base, rally attendance repeatedly confirmed. But assumptions they play well with the general U.S. electorate, and those in the du jour swing states in the Midwest and Southwest, got doused by a cold bucket of water in this year’s midterms.
Democrats are projected to keep their U.S. Senate majority, and maybe increase it by a seat, after hard-right GOP candidates Trump backed in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire lost. Republicans may well take the U.S. House, but by a slim majority as the expected and heralded GOP “red wave” was more like a ripple, Florida notwithstanding.
On Friday evening, Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott told Fox’s Hannity that “our voters didn’t show up” and the party “didn’t have a positive enough message.” Scott, in charge of the committee to raise money and lead a GOP Senate takeover, added that GOP candidates “said everything that was bad about the Biden agenda” but “we have to have a plan of what we stand for.”
A forward-looking, inspiring message was not Trump’s focus in the days after Election Day.
After the “giant red wave” he called for failed to inundate Democrats, the former president has been alleging election fraud and irregularities in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan. But those, too, have been debunked by voting observers.
David Becker, executive director and founder of The Center for Election Innovation & Research, said the former president’s claims are unfounded.
He said the incidents in those states resulted from sporadic glitches with machines and systems but that no voters were turned away. Voters ultimately were able to cast ballots that were counted.
“These are 100% false,” said Becker of Trump’s assertions, saying there was “no evidence” that “any voter was disenfranchised.”
Come Tuesday, Florida state Rep. Mike Caruso said he hopes Trump emphasizes “his policies of when he was president” such as border control and a strong economy.
“We didn’t have any of the issues that we have today,” Caruso said. “He had a great policy that I think made the United States stronger and better off.”
DeSantis’ rout a sharp contrast to Trump, national GOP disappointment
Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona are projected to win their races, allowing them to keep their U.S. Senate seats and securing a majority for their party in the chamber.
Even before then, Republicans, who still are on pace to win a majority in the U.S. House, have been shaming and blaming each other over their midterm failures to win the Senate and some key governorships.
The lion’s share of the finger-pointing for midterm’s “complete disappointment,” as Scott termed it, has been aimed at Trump, who before the election mused that a “lot of people say it’s the Trump Party … but I say it’s the Republican Party.”
At the same time, the red tsunami in Florida, led by DeSantis, highlighted the difference between the governor’s fresh, appealing political brand.
At the governor’s Boynton Beach rally, Debbie Macchia summed up DeSantis’ message in one word: “Freedom.” She said his record of achievements spoke to that message.
“Look at what he’s done,” she said. “Just look at the policies, plain and simple.”
Caldwell, the Fox News analyst, said that is precisely why he and so many others now favor DeSantis.
“He’s got solutions. The state is a great place to be and he has done all the right things,” Caldwell added, noting the parental rights law and the $20 billion state budget surplus. “It’s not just scorched earth.”
Trump, he said, is running the risk of coming across as “the dinner guest” overstaying his welcome. “The dinner’s over. It’s time to go home,” Caldwell said.
The New York Post put it more abrasively: “Like the vast majority of Americans of all parties, we desperately want better choices in 2024, not some grotesque re-do of the 2020 election.”
But other Republicans say not so fast.
Ira Geiger of Delray Beach said he likes DeSantis, but it’s still Trump’s nomination to win.
“Hopefully Gov. DeSantis understands that if Donald Trump wants to be the nominee for president 2024, it’s his,” said Geiger. “No one can win the primary against Donald Trump.”