Nov 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trump, the underdog

Photo illustration of a large hand holding a giant microphone next to a small Trump.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former President Trump is expected to formally launch his 2024 comeback bid at the weakest moment of his political career, testing if his old Teflon suit can protect him — one more time — from the GOP's circular firing squad.

Why it matters: Trump relishes being the underdog. But unlike his first run, the former president finds himself tarnished by Republican losses in three consecutive elections, plummeting internal support, the emergence of a popular GOP alternative and the threat of numerous criminal investigations.

Driving the news: At least six private and public polls conducted since the midterms have placed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis comfortably ahead of Trump in a hypothetical 2024 primary, including in key early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

  • The latest is a poll conducted by Seven Letter Insight, a bipartisan strategic communications firm, which shows DeSantis leading Trump by eight points among Republicans.
  • DeSantis responded to Trump's escalating criticism of his potential candidacy for the first time Tuesday, telling reporters: "[A]t the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night."

The big picture: At an annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association on Tuesday morning, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared he was tired of losing and identified Trump as the one constant weighing Republicans down over three straight elections, Axios first reported.

  • Trump famously declared on the campaign trail in 2016 that Republicans would "win so much, you’re going to get tired of winning."
  • The GOP swept into power that year, but went on to lose the House in 2018, lose the Senate and presidency in 2020, and barely retake the House in 2022 despite historical tailwinds.

The intrigue: The biggest threat to Trump's chances of returning to power may not be a political one.

  • The Justice Department is no longer shackled by proximity to the election, paving the way for an acceleration of its investigations into Trump's role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and handling of classified documents.
  • The Fulton County district attorney is also intensifying its probe, with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp testifying before a special grand jury Tuesday about Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
  • In New York, longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg took the witness stand Tuesday in the criminal tax fraud trial against the company — hours before Trump was set to make his presidential announcement.

What we're watching: After a disappointing election, the Republican Party is airing its dirty laundry. Trump's potential two-year campaign is going to be its biggest test.

Be smart: Trump is already leaning into the underdog narrative, including by downsizing his campaign staff to have it resemble his scrappy 2016 team.

  • But Trump's 2016 Hail Mary offense — captured by his famous "What do you have to lose?" line — will be countered with one word from Democrats: "democracy."
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