Donald Trump pulled the trigger on a third White House run on Tuesday, setting the stage for a bruising Republican nomination battle after a poor midterm election showing by his hand-picked candidates weakened his grip on the party.
“America’s comeback starts right now,” the 76-year-old former President told hundreds of supporters gathered in an ornate American flag-draped ballroom at his palatial Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
Mr. Trump filed his official candidacy papers with the U.S. election authority moments before he was due to publicly announce his candidacy.
Mr. Trump’s unusually early entry into the White House race is being seen in Washington as an attempt to get the jump on other Republicans seeking to be the party flag-bearer in 2024 and to stave off potential criminal charges.
Republicans are licking their wounds after disappointing midterms, widely blamed on the underperformance of Mr. Trump-anointed candidates, and some are openly asking whether Mr. Trump— with his divisive brand of politics and mess of legal woes is the right person to carry the party colors next time around.
Several possible 2024 primary rivals are circling, chief among them the governor of Florida Ron DeSantis, who bucked the tide and won a resounding reelection victory on November 8.
Mr. Trump, who lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden after being impeached twice by the House of Representatives, launches his latest White House bid with several potential handicaps.
He is the target of multiple investigations into his conduct before, during, and after his first term as President— which could ultimately result in his disqualification.
These include allegations of fraud by his family business, his role in last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, and his stashing of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
With Trump now a declared candidate, Mr. Biden’s attorney general, Merrick Garland, may be forced to name a special counsel to pursue the various investigations into the former president launched by the Department of Justice.
In addition, the powerful media empire of Rupert Murdoch has appeared to turn its back on Mr. Trump, labelling him after the midterms as a “loser” who shows “increasingly poor judgement.”
Mr. Trump also remains banned by Facebook and Twitter, which was instrumental in his stunning political rise.
Despite the dismal election showing by Mr. Trump loyalists, the real estate tycoon retains an undeniable popularity with the millions of grassroots supporters who have flocked to his “Make America Great Again” banner.
And despite being abandoned by several top Republican donors, he has amassed a campaign war chest of well over $100 million.
Leading up to the midterm vote, Mr. Trump made denial of the 2020 election results a key litmus test for candidates seeking his endorsement.
But a string of defeats by Trump’s most loyal allies sapped his momentum heading into Tuesday’s launch.
“This is certainly not the rollout I’m sure Donald Trump wanted for his announcement tonight,” said outgoing congresswoman Liz Cheney, a fierce Republican critic of Mr. Trump.
Having failed to wrest control of the Senate, Republicans are inching towards a likely takeover of the House, but with a razor-thin majority that will be difficult to keep in line.
The 79-year-old Mr. Biden, whose victory Mr. Trump still refuses to acknowledge, has said his intention is to seek a second term but he will make a final decision early next year.
Mr. Trump’s once-loyal vice president, Mike Pence, who released a new book, “So Help Me God,” on Tuesday and is seen as a potential 2024 challenger told ABC News this week that Mr. Trump’s behavior on January 6, 2021, had been “reckless.”
But Mr. Pence declined to say directly whether Mr. Trump should be president again. “That’s up to the American people, but I think we’ll have better choices in the future,” he said.
For the moment, the hard-right DeSantis looks like the leading challenger to Mr. Trump in a Republican field that may include Mr. Pence, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and ex-South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.
The 44-year-old Mr. DeSantis, dubbed “Ron DeSanctimonious” by Mr. Trump, had a ready reply Tuesday when asked about the former President’s attacks on him, urging “people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night.”
Without naming Mr. Trump, he also suggested a Republican ticket headed by the former president would have trouble attracting independent voters “even with Mr. Biden in the White House and the failures that we’re seeing.”
By throwing his hat in the ring, Mr. Trump is seeking to become just the second American President to serve non-consecutive terms— Grover Cleveland was elected in 1884, lost in 1888, and won again in 1892.