by Joan E Greve* – The Guardian
The former president consistently painted a misleading image of his years in office, recalling nonexistent global peace, secure borders and a strong economy
Donald Trump’s announcement that he will run for president again in 2024 was met with joy, dismay and mockery across the political spectrum.
Making the widely anticipated announcement at his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night, Trump delivered remarks that would feel quite familiar to anyone who has watched one of his many campaign rallies. Looking back on America as he left the presidency in early 2021, Trump painted a rosy and often misleading picture of a nation that had established secure borders, a strong economy and global peace.
Trump largely ignored the global pandemic that defined his final year as president and killed more than 400,000 Americans before he stepped down. He made the bizarre claim that the country had gone decades without a war while he was president, even though the war in Afghanistan was still unfolding at the end of his term. And Trump delivered the baseless declaration that the US-Mexican border had been “erased” since Joe Biden was sworn in.
Trump used these consistently exaggerated and frequently false talking points to make his case for a third presidential bid.
“Two years ago, we were a great nation, and soon we will be a great nation again,” Trump said. “In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.”
The announcement was celebrated by Trump’s most loyal allies, who have continued to stand by him even after he incited a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6.
“If President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat,” said Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator of South Carolina. “His speech tonight, contrasting his policies and results against the Biden administration, charts a winning path for him in the primaries and general election.”
But Republicans’ disappointing performance in the midterm elections last week may contradict Graham’s confident assessment of Trump’s prospects. Despite widespread expectations that Republicans would easily recapture the House majority, control of the lower chamber remained officially up for grabs as Trump delivered his speech on Tuesday night. In the Senate, Democrats have already secured two more years of majority power, and they may even pick up a seat depending on the results of the Georgia runoff next month.
Speaking to a friendly crowd on Tuesday, Trump boasted an endorsement success rate in the midterms of 232 wins and only 22 losses, ignoring the fact that the 22 losses came in some of the consequential elections of the year. Trump’s Senate picks like Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania and Don Bolduc of New Hampshire lost races that could have helped Republicans win back the majority. Those who embraced Trump’s lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election, such as gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake of Arizona and Don Mastriano of Pennsylvania, performed particularly badly last Tuesday.
“I think it’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race, and it’s like three strikes, you’re out,” Larry Hogan, the outgoing Republican governor of Maryland and a frequent Trump critic, told CNN on Sunday.
Never one to accept responsibility for (or even acknowledge) defeat, Trump instead suggested that Republican candidates lost because Americans are simply not yet feeling the sting of near record-high inflation and economic uncertainty.
Time will tell whether that downbeat message will resonate with voters, but Democrats have wasted no time in reminding Americans of what they may not have appreciated about Trump’s presidency. The Tuesday speech brought a flood of anti-Trump fundraising emails from Democratic candidates and groups, and the sitting president himself joined in on the pile-on. Even before Trump had concluded his remarks, Joe Biden shared a video on Twitter noting that his predecessor saw an overall decline in jobs and attempted to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
“Donald Trump failed America,” Biden said in the tweet.
A senior Biden White House official also mocked the Mar-a-Lago speech as boring, a criticism that was echoed by a former member of Trump’s own administration.
“This is one of the most low-energy, uninspiring speeches I’ve ever heard from Trump,” said Sarah Matthews, who left the White House after the January 6 insurrection. “Even the crowd seems bored. Not exactly what you want when announcing a presidential run.”
Trump’s decision to announce so early, just one week after the last election cycle concluded, means that his critics will have more time to dissect his record and campaign appearances. But for Trump himself, the early announcement could come with some benefits.
Trump, who has been quick to denounce any investigation of him as a witch-hunt, now faces legal threats on multiple fronts, and he will likely use his newly announced candidacy to bolster his questionable claims of political persecution.
Trump’s early announcement is also an apparent attempt to clear the field for the Republican nomination, as one 2024 contender in particular appears to be gaining momentum. The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, has received glowing coverage from right-leaning media outlets since winning re-election by nearly 20 points last week, and there are early signs that Republican voters are taking notice.
According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken in the days after polls closed, 33% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they would support DeSantis if the 2024 primary were held today, up from 26% just before election day.
But the same poll reflected Trump’s enduring sway with Republican voters, as 47% of respondents said they would support the former president if the primary were held now. After Trump confirmed he would attempt to recapture the White House in 2024, some of his loudest critics begrudgingly acknowledged he is likely to win the Republican nomination again.
Despite the challenge ahead, those same critics voiced confidence that Americans would again go to the polls in large numbers to deliver Trump a second defeat.
“He’s back. He’ll win the GOP primary,” said Rick Wilson, a former Republican strategist and co-founder of the anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project. “Only 721 days till election day 2024. We beat him before, together. We can beat him again, together.”
*Joan E Greve is a senior political reporter for Guardian US, based in Washington.