Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

PALM BEACH, Fla. – Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched his third campaign for the White House just one week after a disappointing midterm showing for Republicans, forcing the party to again decide whether to embrace a candidate whose refusal to accept defeat in 2020 sparked an insurrection and pushed American democracy to the brink.

“In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump said before an audience of several hundred supporters in a chandeliered ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago club, where he stood flanked by American flags and banners bearing his “Make America Great Again” slogan.

“America’s comeback starts right now,” he said, formally beginning the 2024 Republican primary.

Another campaign is a remarkable turn for any former president, much less one who made history as the first to be impeached twice and whose term ended with his supporters violently storming the Capitol in a deadly bid to halt the peaceful transition of power on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump also enters the race in a moment of deep political vulnerability. He hoped to launch his campaign in the wake of resounding GOP midterm victories, fueled by candidates he elevated during this year’s primaries. Instead, many of those candidates lost, allowing Democrats to keep the Senate and leaving the GOP with a path to only a bare majority in the House.

Trump has been blamed for the losses by many in his party, including a growing number who say the results make clear it’s time for the GOP to move past him and look to the future, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis emerging from last week’s elections as an early favorite.

In addition to trying to blunt his potential rivals’ rise, Trump’s decision to launch his candidacy before the 2022 election had been fully decided also comes as he faces a series of escalating criminal investigations, including several that could lead to indictments. They include the probe into hundreds of documents with classified markings that were seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago and ongoing state and federal inquiries into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

As Trump has spent the last months teasing his return, aides have been sketching out the contours of a campaign that is being modeled on his 2016 operation, when Trump and a small clutch of aides defied the odds and defeated far better-funded and more experienced rivals by tapping into deep political fault lines and using shocking statements to drive relentless media attention.

Trump returned to that dark rhetoric in his speech Tuesday, painting the country under President Joe Biden in apocalyptic terms, describing “blood-soaked streets” in “cesspool cities” and an “invasion” at the border and earning cheers as he vowed to execute those convicted of selling drugs.

“We are a nation in decline,” he said. “We are here tonight to declare that it does not have to be this way.”

Trump notably avoided much talk of the 2020 election, eschewing the extreme conspiracy theories that often dominate his rallies. Still, the speech included numerous exaggerations and deflections as he cast himself as “a victim” of wayward prosecutors and the “festering, rot and corruption of Washington.”

While Trump spoke before a crowd of several hundred, notably missing were many longtime supporters including previous campaign managers, aides and his daughter Ivanka, who released a statement saying that she does not plan to be involved in his campaign.

“While I will always love and support my father, going forward I will do so outside the political arena,” she said in statement.

Even after the GOP’s midterm losses, Trump remains the most powerful force in his party thanks to the loyalty of his base. For years he has consistently topped his fellow Republican contenders by wide margins in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. And even out of office, he consistently attracts thousands to his rallies and remains his party’s most prolific fundraiser, raising hundreds of millions of dollars.

But Trump is also a deeply polarizing figure. Fifty-four percent of voters in last week’s midterm elections viewed him very or somewhat unfavorably, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 94,000 voters nationwide. And an October AP-NORC poll found even Republicans have their reservations about him remaining the party’s standard-bearer, with 43% saying they don’t want to see him run for president in 2024.

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