Donald Trump’s candidacy to retake the White House in 2024 is at this point not a question of “if” but “when.” For the last year, the conventional wisdom has held that his decision would only come after this fall’s midterm elections.
As things stand, the GOP is poised to make major gains in the House and has a shot at retaking the Senate as well, mostly by making the election a referendum on President Joe Biden and the economy. Only a madman would make such a divisive announcement before the midterms and potentially upend that strategy.
So, of course, Trump is reportedly strongly considering making his announcement before the midterms, potentially upending that strategy.
Only a madman would make such a divisive announcement before the midterms and potentially upend that strategy.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the former president is “eyeing a September announcement,” with one unnamed confidant putting the odds at “70-30 he announces before the midterms.” CNN likewise previously reported that Trump had considered launching his campaign as soon as earlier this month.
Trump potentially inserting himself into the current election cycle has drawn a wildly different response from the two parties. Republican strategists and candidates alike are privately wary about Trump blowing up their plans. Democrats, meanwhile, are psyched at the chance to focus on their favorite villain and remind Americans what’s at stake should the GOP retake either house of Congress.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump simply does not appear to care. He does not care that an early entry into the 2024 race would divert focus away from Biden’s record. He does not care that some in GOP leadership like Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., are trying to wave him off of the idea. He does not care that Democrats are itching for a chance to use him to energize their base. He seemingly does not care about any broader strategy the Republican Party might be running.
If anything, his announcing before the midterms would be entirely a self-serving exercise. The goal wouldn’t be about helping his fellow Republicans, so much as shivving the would-be usurpers who would dare challenge his place atop the party, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“I just think that there are certain assets to before,” Trump told New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi on July 11. “Let people know. I think a lot of people would not even run if I did that because, if you look at the polls, they don’t even register. Most of these people. And I think that you would actually have a backlash against them if they ran. People want me to run.”
Tellingly, not once in Nuzzi’s article does Trump seem to process how his entry would affect the GOP’s chances of retaking Congress in November. He did weigh in on whether or not he’d run to try to protect himself from potential prosecution from the grand jury investigation into his attempts to overturn the 2020 election’s results in Fulton County. (He denied that it was a factor; I’m disinclined to believe him.)
It’s almost laughable, in a tragicomic kind of way, how little Trump has changed and been changed by his humbling in 2020. The words I wrote on Jan. 5, 2021 remain as true today as they were then: “He's never pretended to care about the Republican Party as a set of ideas or ideologies. He's never craved like-minded companions. He wants the adulation of the masses who identify with the Republican Party and the unwavering, unblinking loyalty of his fellow party members. There is no reciprocity — only an unending stream of homage and tribute can appease the self-styled emperor of the Grand Old Party.”
There’s no world where Trump’s timing factors in how it will affect anyone but Donald J. Trump.
We’re still too far out from Election Day to accurately assess how much of an impact Trump cannonballing back into the discourse would have. Democrats may be right, and he acts as a lightning rod for currently apathetic voters. Republicans may be wrong, and he actually gets the base out to vote for GOP candidates who are currently vulnerable.
The irony is that Trump will claim victory no matter what. If he gets in early and the GOP wins big, he’ll say he reminded voters what’s at stake. If he announces and the GOP stumbles, he’ll simply say that the candidates were flawed, and that this kind of loss wouldn’t have happened with him at the top of the ticket (despite it clearly happening when he was atop the ticket in 2020.) And if he actually finds the patience to wait, he’ll still say his decision was what either pushed the Republicans over the finish line (“I gave them space, which was very big of me”) or held them back (“They needed me and it’s clear that they needed me, but I was told that they didn’t see that”).
Here's the bottom line though: There’s no world where Trump’s timing factors in how it will affect anyone but Donald J. Trump.