Four weeks after declaring his 2024 White House bid, former President Trump appears to be a candidate in name only.
Trump announced his third presidential campaign on Nov. 15 from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, giving a long-winded speech in which he said he is seeking a return to the Oval Office “to make America great and glorious again.”
Since then, Trump has not held any formal campaign events. He has not traveled to early voting states, made any major staffing announcements or done much of anything to scare off would-be rivals.
Instead, he’s been making headlines for controversies including dining with a white nationalist and calling to suspend the rules of the Constitution to redo the 2020 election.
The failure to launch has fueled chatter that Trump is as politically weak as he’s ever been — giving others weighing 2024 campaigns more food for thought.
“His announcement and post-announcement period went terribly,” one former Trump campaign adviser said, pointing to Republican Herschel Walker’s defeat in Tuesday’s Georgia Senate runoff as the latest negative development.
Trump plows ahead
Trump’s campaign launch itself came at a time when many Republicans, including some of his own advisers, were urging him to delay at least until after that vote.
Underwhelming midterm results for Republicans, due in part to key losses by Trump-backed candidates in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin and now Georgia had led some in the former president’s orbit to call for holding off until there was a clearer argument for his candidacy.
Instead, Trump plowed ahead with his launch. Although there is still an abundance of time left on the calendar, what has followed has not resembled much of a campaign building momentum or clearing the field.
Trump has brought in a handful of staffers for the operation, including Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, but there is no clear campaign manager.
He has not left Florida for any campaign events. He addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas virtually while several other possible 2024 candidates attended in person. Trump did not hold a rally in Georgia in support of Walker, instead doing a telerally amid concerns his presence would turn off independent voters.
There have been no major policy rollouts or campaign infrastructure announcements in the weeks since Trump launched his bid. His one impromptu speech came during a gala at Mar-a-Lago, when he took to a microphone to denounce the appointment of a Justice Department special counsel to handle investigations into his conduct now that he is formally a candidate for office.
The general lack of activity has only fueled speculation among some Trump critics that the early announcement was intended to potentially insulate the former president from a possible indictment over his handling of classified documents.
Meanwhile, Trump has generated an avalanche of bad headlines with his private meetings and social media commentary.
The former president drew condemnation from his own party again, though it was more muted, when he suggested the country should disregard the Constitution and redo the 2020 election or put him back in the White House because of internal communications that showed Twitter employees deciding to limit the spread of a story about President Biden’s son, Hunter, in the fall of 2020.
This past week, a New York jury found the Trump Organization guilty of tax fraud, and a federal appeals court ended the appointment of a special master to conduct an outside review of White House records seized from Mar-a-Lago that included top secret and classified government documents.
‘Ready to win’
Despite all this, Trump and his team believe the former president remains the candidate to beat in any GOP primary.
“President Trump entered the race three weeks ago ready to win and he is going to do exactly that — no amount of wishful thinking from the media or consultant class will change it,” said Taylor Budowich, head of MAGA Inc., a Trump-aligned super PAC. “He’s building one of the most talented teams in American politics, and he is the only person in the country who is ready and capable of reversing America’s decline.”
In the meantime, other possible candidates are building out their own infrastructure as they weigh a 2024 campaign.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has made multiple visits this year to New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, the first three primary states. And Republican operatives have formed a super PAC in support of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who will reportedly meet with major donors in the coming weeks.
Republican strategists largely agree that Trump still has to be treated as the front-runner in any GOP primary given his devoted base of voters that give him a solid floor of support. Recent polling has also shown that Trump is still the preferred candidate of many voters, especially in a large, divided field.
A YouGov-Yahoo poll conducted Dec. 1-5 found 35 percent of voters would back Trump in a GOP primary in 2024, followed by 30 percent who said they’d support DeSantis. Twelve percent of respondents said they weren’t sure who they’d support, while 5 percent said they’d back Pence.
The same poll also found Trump losing a hypothetical rematch with President Biden, 45 percent to 42 percent, underscoring the fears many in the party have about nominating Trump a third time. The early weeks of Trump’s campaign have done little to dispel those concerns.
“It’s crystal, crystal, crystal clear,” former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in an interview with SiriusXM this week. “We lose with Trump if we stick with Trump. If we dump Trump, we start winning elections. So I think he has just shown himself to be who he is, and that is not a reflection on our democracy.”