It was a sober and serious Donald Trump, painting an overly rosy and sometimes misleading picture of his tenure, said he would lead an “American comeback” and accused President Biden with substantial hyperbole of “leading us to the brink of nuclear war.”
“The Washington establishment wants to silence us,” said the man who redefined the Republican Party,” vowing to defeat Joe Biden as the face of radical leftism and corruption in declaring his presidential candidacy.
Trump said he left office “at the pinnacle of power, prosperity and prestige,” when the economy had been flattened by the pandemic. “When the virus hit our shores, I took decisive action,” Trump said, who has acknowledged repeatedly playing it down to avoid a panic, though he deserves credit for the warp-speed vaccine program.
His one reference to his stolen-election charges came after he boasted of slapping tariffs on China. Therefore, many people think “China played a very active role in the 2020 election–just saying.” But he mostly stuck to the policy script before an array of American flags at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump insisted that the media would not report that his record in the midterms was 232 wins and 22 losses, though most of those were candidates on their way to victory. Instead, he ignored that many of his MAGA candidates lost, allowing Democrats to keep control of the Senate and drawing flak even from many in conservative media. The press, he said, was “still trying to blame us.”
Speaking of the media, CNN took the first 25 minutes of the speech, Fox News carried 40 minutes, and MSNBC made a point of studiously ignoring a former president formally announcing for his old job–though will undoubtedly talk about it all day today.
The former president took legitimate shots at his successor: inflation, a porous border, the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal (though Biden inherited the pullout that Trump had negotiated).
He boasted a good relationship with Kim Jong-un, but those talks led to nothing and now North Korea has resumed missile testing. He declared that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine had he remained in office.
When Trump accused Biden of ruining the country, he – calling cities “cesspools of violent crime and declaring that “the Biden administration has destroyed the U.S. economy.”
It wasn’t exactly the environment in which Trump was planning to launch his third bid for the White House.
Some of his closest past allies were practically begging him not to make the announcement, and the lack of Republican enthusiasm was palpable.
A Politico headline yesterday morning said “Republicans Cringe as Trump 2024 Approaches”–not exactly throwing out the welcome mat.
Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, calling Trump “one of the greatest conservative presidents in modern times,” nonetheless greeted him with this yesterday: “Mr. President, it is not in your interest to run in 2024. If you do, you will likely lose. And you will destroy what remains of your legacy in the process. Please, don’t do it.”
Wyoming GOP Sen. Cynthia Lummis said in the Politico piece: “Who is the current leader of the Republican Party?…Ron DeSantis is the leader of the Republican Party, whether he wants to be or not.”
The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune, said he wouldn’t endorse anyone in a contested primary, adding: “It’s clear that running on relitigating the 2020 election is not a winning strategy.”
Now Trump retains a very strong hold on the MAGA base, though we won’t know whether that’s been weakened until the voting starts.
Various polls showing DeSantis leading Trump in this or that state are meaningless at this point. Those numbers will look different once he’s under daily attack. National Review’s Jim Geraghty noted that DeSantis can wait six months before jumping, leaving Trump to run against himself–and, I would add, the media and his Republican critics.
Asked at a presser yesterday about Trump’s attacks, the governor deftly deflected by saying when you lead, “you take incoming fire…what you learn is all that’s just noise…I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night,” the landslide winner said.
What’s striking is that after all the many controversies of the Trump presidency–from two impeachments to January 6–some of his backers jumped ship only making the cold calculation that he is a loser.
To wit: Trump lost the House in 2018; lost the House, Senate and White House in 2020; and his top nominees, who had been election deniers, lost in 2022, enabling Democrats to keep control of the Senate.
These include Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Blake Masters in Arizona, with Herschel Walker facing a Georgia runoff early next month.
And Trump’s announcement came 24 hours after Kari Lake, the former Phoenix TV anchor who embraced the former president’s insistence that the election was stolen, lost the Arizona governor’s race. Trump said “they just took the election” from her, though it was legitimate late-counted voters who didn’t close the gap for Lake against Democrat Katie Hobbs–the latest reminder that unsupported charges of election corruption remain central to his candidacy.