Donald Trump was about 20 minutes into his speech on Tuesday night when, following the predictable script of his own thriller, he announced that he is running for president in 2024. It was then that Joe Biden, his long-time - and perhaps future – political opponent accused him on Twitter of having “let America down.” Biden’s message was accompanied by a carefully edited video that blamed the former president for “manipulating the economy in favor of the rich,” sinking employment, encouraging extremism, attacking healthcare and persecuting the right to abortion.
The synchronicity between Trump’s speech - a tiring, pessimistic and angry revelry lasting more than 60 minutes in which he promised to “make America great again” - and the reaction of the current president, who was at the G20 summit in Bali, immersed in managing the crisis caused by a missile fired in the Russia-Ukraine war hitting Polish territory, suggested that Biden had a plan. No one, and much less the White House, was taken by surprise by Trump’s announcement. The former president has been telegraphing his intentions for months and had made it clear that he had no intention of listening to those among his supporters, family and the Republican Party who have over the past few days tried to persuade him that now is not the time to launch his bid for a return to the White House in 2024.
A danger to democracy
The electoral disappointment among his supporters, Trump was told, is still too fresh and there still a Senate seat to be decided in the Georgia runoff between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock on December 6. Whatever the result there, the Democrats retained control of the upper chamber while the House of Representatives went the way of the Republicans on Wednesday. But the anticipated “red wave” did not materialize and the Republican advantage is narrower than forecast, largely because of the shadow cast by Trump over the conservative campaign in supporting inexperienced and extremist candidates in the key states that handed the Senate to the Democrats.
A few hours after the event at Mar-a-Lago, The New York Times, also prepared for the eventuality, published a story detailing a White House plan that had been in progress “for months” to react to Trump’s third presidential candidacy. The election is still two years away but Trump is confident that his latest stunt will help him get around some of the many judicial and prosecutorial tangles he is embroiled in over his business dealings, classified documents found by the FBI at, precisely, Mar-a-Lago, and his involvement in the January 6 Capitol attack. Justice Department officials have already made it clear that Trump’s announcement changes nothing as far as they are concerned.
Among the major points of that plan - which was activated hours before the Mar-a-Lago announcement through the launch of an official website glossing the achievements of the Biden administration - is to continue pressing home the message that supporting Trump represents a danger to democracy. Biden’s team will also work to counter misinformation campaigns and attacks by the former president. Trump started on both in a speech riddled with exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies, in which he said: " “The decline of our country is being forced upon us by Biden and the lunatics on the radical left.” What is not yet clear is if the Democratic plan involves Biden, who turns 80 this Sunday, running against his old foe again.
The president’s aides are banking on the prospect of facing Trump again to fire the president’s enthusiasm. Biden has always said that the opportunity to neutralize Trump was what led him to run in 2020, and he prides himself on having been the “only one capable of defeating him.” In an appearance last week on the back of positive results in the legislative elections, the Democratic leader said that his intention was to run again, but that it is “a family decision” that he will postpone until next year. He also talked about Trump’s biggest potential rival for the Republican candidacy, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: “It would be fun watching them take each other on,” the president said.
While Trump addressed his supporters, DeSantis was meeting with party members behind closed doors. Beforehand, he had invited the press to compare his sweeping results in Florida with the performances of Trump-endorsed candidates. DeSantis is not the only Republican who has seemingly thrown his hat into the ring against Trump, who continues to enjoy huge popularity among Republican voters: 40% would support him, according to polls.
Reactions to Trump’s announcement were swift and ranged from his daughter, Ivanka, making it clear that she will not be on the campaign trail with her father this time, to Jeb Bush, who pointed to “the lack of energy” in Trump’s speech and called him “Sleepy Donnie,” mimicking Trump’s nickname for Biden, “Sleepy Joe.” Mike Pence, the former vice president, took advantage of a promotional tour for his memoirs to note the US will have “better choices in the future” while he weighs up a potential 2024 bid himself.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are involved in other fratricidal emergencies. After choosing Kevin McCarthy as their candidate for House Speaker on Tuesday, the conservative bloc placed their renewed confidence in Mitch McConnell to lead them in the Senate, a position he has held since 2007. McConnell, who has been in the crosshairs of accountability seekers due to the midterm electoral fiasco, faced last-minute opposition from Florida Senator Rick Scott, an uprising demonstrating the delicate moment the party is experiencing on Capitol Hill.
The press, for its part, has shown signs of having learned certain lessons from past experience. Trump’s addictive, up-to-the-minute broadcast spectacle during the 2016 campaign undoubtedly contributed to his triumph. National dailies greeted Tuesday’s announcement with restraint and timely reminders of the candidate’s rap sheet during his presidential term: two impeachments and a call for insurrection on January 6, 2021, that ended in violent disorder.
For their part, the main cable news channels refused to broadcast Trump’s speech in its entirety. As such, they sidestepped the diffusion of falsehoods about climate change, the border with Mexico or the performance of the economy during the previous administration. The usually faithful Fox News cut off the broadcast as soon as the presidential announcement was made, as did CNN. Further to the left, MSNBC didn’t even broadcast Trump’s intervention. Instead, they interviewed the re-elected Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, who is also a candidate for the White House in 2024.
The most eye-catching case was that of the New York Post. The tabloid - owned by Rupert Murdoch, another former Trump acolyte who now seems willing to sever previous ties - covered the news on page seven of its print edition in a half-column that mockingly spoke of the “surprise move no opponent could have anticipated” by a “Florida retiree famous for his gilded hallways and firing people on reality shows.”
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