Donald Trump, the only U.S. president to have attempted a coup to remain in power and who is now under multiple criminal investigations for it, nevertheless announced Tuesday night that he is running to regain his old job in 2024 — with polls suggesting he could win the Republican Party nomination again.
“In order to make America great again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” he said 19 minutes into his remarks.
“America’s comeback starts right now,” Trump said as he kicked off his remarks. “We were a great and glorious nation. Now we are a nation in decline. We are a failing nation.”
“We are here tonight to declare that it does not have to be this way,” he said.
Minutes before he started to speak at his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC.
The 9 p.m. EST announcement, for which Trump’s aides were trying to rustle up as many supporters as possible to attend, remained on schedule, despite some Republicans advising him to postpone because of the dismal performance of his anointed candidates in last week’s midterm elections as well as the Dec. 6 runoff between Republican Herschel Walker and Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia.
Trump required candidates who wanted his support to spread his lies that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from him, and dozens of candidates across the country were happy to make that trade. But, in the highest-profile of those races, Trump’s candidates lost to Democrats.
Trump’s choices for governor in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland and Arizona, for secretary of state in Arizona, Michigan and Nevada, and for U.S. Senate in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire all were defeated.
The Senate losses ensured that Democrats will retain control of that chamber for the next two years, while Republicans appear likely to have only a razor-thin majority in the House after previously expecting to win as many as 60 seats.
“He got his ass kicked,” said one top Trump adviser on condition of anonymity. “And he knows it.”
If Walker ― whom Trump personally recruited based on their friendship from his professional football days ― loses next month, Democrats would have a 51-49 clear majority in the Senate and not need Vice President Kamala Harris to break tie votes. They would also have a much easier time moving judicial nominations through committee and onto the floor.
Many Republicans worry that with Trump’s announcement, Democrats will be able to make him the face of Republicans in that runoff and drive up Democratic turnout.
Trump, though, was so certain that Republicans would win in a massive “red wave” that he proclaimed a day before the midterms that he would make his announcement the following Tuesday, and now reportedly feels he cannot alter that date.
“I think he’s afraid of looking stupid,” the adviser said.
Trump remains deeply unpopular outside of the Republican Party, but has more supporters within it than any other single potential challenger, setting up circumstances that could be nearly identical to 2016. That year, Trump won the GOP nomination despite never having the support of more than about one-third of the party’s primary voters until he had secured the presidential nomination.
Whether he can pull off a victory this time remains to be seen. In 2016, he was a celebrity game show host who had successfully sold himself as a brash but savvy billionaire businessman. In 2024, he would be a former president potentially facing criminal charges both for his coup attempt as well as for removing top-secret documents from the White House on his way out the door.
Indeed, the possibility of those criminal charges makes a successful campaign all the more valuable to him.
For the past 10 months, Trump has been calling for civil unrest if prosecutors wind up charging him in any of the investigations. He’s labeled the FBI and the Department of Justice “corrupt” and has told his followers to engage in the biggest demonstrations ever should he be charged, warning that the country “would not take it.”
Not only can he now claim even more forcefully that prosecutors are only going after him to keep him out of the White House, but they would almost certainly have to put any criminal charges on hold for the duration of his presidency should he manage to win a second term.
Official Justice Department policy since the end of Richard Nixon’s tenure was not to pursue investigations into sitting presidents — which could likely mean federal prosecutors would suspend any ongoing actions against Trump should he retake office.
And while state prosecutors are not covered by that federal policy, during oral arguments in May 2020, Supreme Court justices and a New York State prosecutor agreed that the presidency is a uniquely important office and that any attempts to pursue criminal charges against a sitting president must be cognizant of that.
George Conway, who ghost-wrote the Supreme Court brief in the Paula Jones civil lawsuit against Bill Clinton that forced him to undergo a deposition while he was president, said that although there is obviously no case law specific to Trump’s potential situation, he is confident that the high court will take seriously the Constitution’s Article II powers and duties that a president is entrusted with.
“If Article II prevents a federal prosecution, I don’t think there’s any question it would prevent a state prosecution,” he said, adding that those protections would apply even if Trump somehow won the 2024 election from behind bars. “He could run for office from prison. And if he wins, you’d have to spring him.”
Authoritarianism experts, meanwhile, worry that Trump would interpret an election victory as a complete validation of his previous actions, including his eager acceptance of Russian assistance to win in 2016, the 2019 extortion of Ukraine that led to his first impeachment and the 2020 coup attempt that led to his second.
Worse, he could declare that he is owed more time in the White House than just four years because of having to deal with the various investigations.
Despite losing the 2020 election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, Trump became the first U.S. president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — which he incited in a last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― resulted in five deaths, including the death of a police officer, 140 injured officers and four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and started openly speaking about running for the presidency again in February of 2021, barely a month after leaving office.
In statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the Jan. 6 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.