Nov 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Inside Trump's dicey 2024 campaign announcement

A close-up of Donald Trump talking and gesturing with his left hand

Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Editor's note: Former President Trump has formally entered the 2024 presidential race.

Former President Trump put himself in a box when he declared on election eve that he would make a "very big announcement" on Nov. 15.

Why it matters: The midterms were a disaster for Republicans and for Trump personally. But because of his pre-midterms promise, Trump felt compelled to barrel ahead with declaring his 2024 presidential campaign on the promised date.

The big picture: Even some of Trump's own advisers privately acknowledge he has suffered the most significant damage to his political standing since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Behind the scenes: When Trump teased his rally crowd with his promise of a "very big announcement" on Nov. 15, he was actually offering a compromise to his advisers.

  • That very morning, Nov. 7, Trump had told associates he planned to announce his 2024 campaign that night in Dayton, Ohio, in his rally with JD Vance.
  • Even though he was less optimistic than some of his advisers, Trump expected Republicans to do well last Tuesday night. And his main concern, the day before the elections, was ensuring that he would receive sufficient credit for the GOP triumphs.

Trump figured that by announcing his own candidacy the night before election, he could increase his chances of getting the credit he felt he deserved, an adviser told Axios.

  • Trump was actually more bearish about the midterm elections than some of his own advisers.
  • He was less sure of the sweeping "red wave" that was being promised, and he persistently suspected abortion would be more of a problem for Republicans that his advisers thought it would be.
  • Trump also privately discounted GOP strategists who thought John Fetterman's debate performance was fatal to his chances in the Pennsylvania Senate race. Trump thought Fetterman would do better than many people expected because "people would feel bad for him," a source close to Trump told Axios.

Several of Trump's confidants, including GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), were alarmed when they learned he was going to toss out his team's tentative plans of announcing his campaign the week after the midterms and instead do a haphazard announcement the night before the midterms.

  • They thought an election eve announcement would gin up Democratic turnout the next day and harm Republicans' chances. They scrambled into action and tried to talk Trump out of it.
  • He ultimately compromised by announcing his announcement date.
  • Since then, Trump has publicly attacked popular Republican governors DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin. And in doing so, he has alienated even some of his own longtime allies and advisers.
  • Several of these allies told Axios that in the wake of Trump's attacks on DeSantis and Youngkin they were reconsidering how closely they wanted to be publicly associated with the Trump 2024 campaign.

Between the lines: By talking him out of an election-eve announcement, Trump's advisers saved him from receiving even more blame than he's currently getting for the GOP underperformance.

  • But Trump's decision to promise a "very big announcement" for the Tuesday after the midterms put him in a situation where he would risk appearing weak if he retracted it.
  • Still, some of Trump's advisers thought it would have been wiser for him to delay his presidential announcement until after the Georgia Senate runoff.

"For some reason it's just stuck in his head that he's got to do this," said another source close to Trump. "And he can't be talked out it."

  • The source said the worst thing for DeSantis' prospective presidential campaign would be for Trump to delay running, because DeSantis would then become the de-facto frontrunner and everyone would go after him.
  • "The best thing for DeSantis is Trump gets in, DeSantis stays out for a while, and Trump runs a race against himself for the next six months," the source close to Trump added.

The bottom line: Trump himself apparently never saw retreat from the Nov. 15 announcement as a viable option.

  • "I think the people who wanted him to delay the announcement were well intentioned, but just didn't think it all the way through," a longtime Trumpworld adviser told Axios.
  • "After announcing his announcement, had he delayed it, he would have gotten destroyed in the media for being weak and probably would have caused him even more long-term damage."

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