Democrats who had hoped to make the midterms yet another election about Donald Trump will get one last chance as the former president spends the final days holding a flurry of rallies and making a pre-announcement of his plans to run for the White House again in 2024.
Trump, who is under criminal investigation by prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, told an Iowa rally audience Thursday night that he “very, very, very probably” would run again. He followed up with leaks to news outlets Friday that he would likely announce on Nov. 14 ― the the day the House committee investigating his mob’s Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol demanded that he sit for a sworn deposition.
Many Republicans, aware that Trump is deeply unpopular in the suburban areas where they are hoping to pick up House seats and which would deliver the swing votes in key Senate races, had hoped he would keep a low profile until after Election Day.
“If there is one thing Trump has proved over and over again, there is only one person he cares about electing, and that’s him,” said Rory Cooper, a Republican consultant and aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Cooper pointed out that not only did the GOP lose the House under Trump in 2018, but it then lost the Senate when Trump sabotaged two Georgia runoffs in January 2021 by telling his supporters that the elections were rigged. “Not only has he not helped Republicans win majorities, but he actively cost us the Senate two years ago with these antics, and so we have him to thank for Biden’s entire legislative agenda to date,” Cooper said.
Trump’s staff did not respond to queries from HuffPost about his 2024 plans.
One close Trump confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he is not convinced Trump will actually announce this month but that many top advisers, including the head of his political operation, Susie Wiles, are pushing him in that direction. “Not sure it means he is a candidate six months from now,” the confidant said, adding that Wiles and others are hoping to head off a presidential run by Republican Ron DeSantis, who is expected to win a second term as Florida governor on Tuesday.
Wiles was banished from DeSantis’ orbit three years ago after memos detailing his fundraising plan and price list were leaked to the media and DeSantis assumed she was involved. The Trump confidant said a DeSantis presidency would effectively end her career.
Wiles did not respond to HuffPost’s queries.
For the past year, Trump has claimed that prosecutors were only targeting him because they want to prevent him from becoming president again, and any decision to run should be seen in that context, other Republicans said.
“This is probably as much about making it tougher on DOJ to proceed if he’s an active candidate than it is about anything else,” said one senior GOP consultant on condition of anonymity. “I honestly don’t think he’s too worried about potential rivals.”
But David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Tampa, said Trump seems fixated on a potential DeSantis candidacy. “It’s 100% about DeSantis. He has to go first, otherwise DeSantis gets to set the field. If Trump goes first, it forces DeSantis to do something he has never, ever done: directly challenge the former president,” Jolly said, adding that he would be surprised if Trump can manage to wait a full week after the midterms.
“I’ve long suspected Trump calls into Fox News on election night and declares then. He’d own the night,” Jolly said. “This clips DeSantis. It then begs the question: How much confidence does DeSantis really have. Will he challenge the old man?”
DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to a HuffPost request for comment. During his sole debate with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, though, DeSantis declined to pledge to serve out his second term if reelected.
Trump is under investigation by the Department of Justice for his role in Jan. 6, including the scheme to submit to the National Archives fraudulent slates of electors from states that voted for Democrat Joe Biden as a way to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to award Trump a second term. A separate probe is investigating Trump’s removal of highly classified documents from the White House and subsequent refusal to hand them over, even in defiance of a subpoena.
In addition to the federal criminal investigations, a Georgia prosecutor is looking at Trump and his allies’ attempts to coerce state officials into falsely declaring him the winner in that state.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― led to the deaths of five people, including one police officer, the injury of 140 officers and four police suicides.
At rallies and in statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the Jan. 6 House select committee’s work, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian assistance and his attempted extortion of Ukraine into helping his 2020 campaign.