Worst-case scenario: Trump to launch his 2024 candidacy in September?

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

A worst-case scenario for the party, I mean.

For Trump, the timing makes sense. A Republican landslide in November is *probably* inevitable, propelled by the irresistible force of inflation. If he jumps in shortly beforehand, he can take credit — implausibly — for the GOP’s big gains. At the very least he’ll be able to cite Republican victories as proof that he’s not such a liability to the party after all, which will help blunt any electability argument that Ron DeSantis tries to use against him in a 2024 primary. “The media said if I announced before the midterms, swing voters would vote Democrat in protest. Instead we won the House bigly. American voters love me!”

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GOP leaders aren’t worried that having Trump front and center on Election Day will spoil a House takeover. They’re worried that it might tilt a few tight races towards the Dems, which could be enough to spoil a Senate takeover.

As usual, though, Trump is looking out for number one.

“The former president is now eyeing a September announcement, according to two Trump advisers,” WaPo reports today, with one source putting the odds at 70/30 that he gets in before the midterms. Just yesterday Politico reported that anxious Republicans in Congress were worried he might announce before November and complicate their attempts to frame the midterms as a pure referendum on Biden’s first two years in office. “Anything you have that takes you off of what your message is, or creates distractions, is obviously something you’d have to adapt to,” said Trump enemy John Thune.

Alas, WaPo says he’s begun talking with his team about potential campaign personnel, meeting with donors, and building out a skeleton operation that can hit the ground quickly once the whim to announce his candidacy finally overtakes him. His cronies and detractors within the party have identified all the costs and benefits of an early entrance:

“If Trump is going to run, the sooner he gets in and talks about winning the next election, the better,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump in New Jersey. “It will refocus his attention — less grievance, more about the future.”…

“Of all the selfish things he does every minute of every day, it would probably be the most,” said one prominent Republican strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Everything we are doing that is not talking about the economy is going to be a disaster.”…

“When Republicans have these massive wins in the midterms, if President Trump has not yet announced for 2024, the haters and the establishment Republicans and their allies in the media will say they can win in 2024 without him, and that the party should go and find somebody else,” said Jason Miller, a longtime spokesman and adviser, who now runs the Gettr social media network. “They will try to get that narrative to hold, and the Democrats will gladly amplify it.”…

“It’s a big jump ball if we win the Senate. If we lose by one Senate seat, which is a very strong possibility, he’s just giving people an excuse to blame him,” said another longtime adviser, pointing to the GOP’s loss of Georgia’s two Senate seats in an early 2021 runoff. “If we lose Georgia again, he’ll get blamed. He’ll get none of the credit and he’ll get all of the blame. He knows that.”

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Graham’s kidding himself. Yes, it’s probably true that Trump will spend a bit more time focused on Biden’s failings once he’s in campaign mode, but his mania over 2020 will recur repeatedly on the stump. A guy who’s still posting stuff like this 18 months after the insurrection will never shed his obsession:

Congrats to all the Republican candidates who’ll be asked daily this fall about soundbites like that from their party’s newly announced presidential candidate.

Jason Miller’s point is a shrewd one, though. Nothing would suit DeSantis more than to have Republicans clean up in November nationally with Trump still on the sidelines. That’s why DeSantis hasn’t asked Trump to endorse him again in his own reelection bid — he’s keen to show that he’s his own man and that a post-Trump GOP doesn’t need the former guy to succeed. Trump getting in before the midterms confounds that argument.

And of course it gives him some lead time on campaigning before DeSantis announces his own 2024 candidacy. Today’s new Yahoo News poll poll conducted by YouGov finds Trump’s lead over DeSantis in a potential 2024 primary among registered voters down to 16 points, with the incumbent slightly below 50 percent:

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DeSantis is already preferred by Republican-leaning independents. And Trump’s lead among Fox viewers is a mere 14 points, evidence that flattering coverage of DeSantis in conservative media is helping him gain ground among GOP base voters. That’s why I continue to think that Trump getting in early is a smart choice for him, however deleterious it may be for the party. He’s about to have a real race on his hands courtesy of DeSantis; he might as well start running in earnest as soon as he can to try to build a lead.

New York magazine interviewed him during his trip to Alaska a few days ago and asked him about the timing of his announcement. He’s inclined to do it sooner rather than later, he said — and made clear that it’s because he’s hearing footsteps:

“I would say my big decision will be whether I go before or after,” he said. “You understand what that means?” His tone was conspiratorial. Was he referring to the midterm elections? He repeated after me: “Midterms.” Suddenly, he relaxed, as though my speaking the word had somehow set it free for discussion. “Do I go before or after? That will be my big decision,” he said.

He was thinking aloud now. “I just think that there are certain assets to before,” he said. “Let people know. I think a lot of people would not even run if I did that because, if you look at the polls, they don’t even register. Most of these people. And I think that you would actually have a backlash against them if they ran. People want me to run.”

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Who knows? Once he’s officially in, he may see a surge in the polls that ends up convincing DeSantis not to bother running after all. And he may be right that if DeSantis gets in after Trump, some MAGA fans will treat it as an affront to a degree that they wouldn’t have if DeSantis had announced his candidacy first. So long as Trump isn’t in the race, any Republican can launch a campaign and say that their candidacy has nothing to do with Trump. But once Trump is in, anyone who announces is tacitly asserting that the party can and should do better than nominating him a third time. That’s what DeSantis is up against — first convincing Trump fans not to hate him for challenging their guy, then convincing them to actually vote for him over Trump. That’s a heavy lift.

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