WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has traded a Manhattan skyscraper for a Florida resort, golden escalators for palm trees, and an overlooked midday rollout for a closely watched prime-time spectacle.
A lot has changed for Trump since he last launched a presidential bid from outside the White House in 2015 — and not just the scenery.
The former president is widely expected on Tuesday to say that he will again seek the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, declaring his intentions during a 9 p.m. speech (cable channels C-SPAN and NewsMax and online at multiple streaming sites) from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. The announcement marks the start of a new chapter for Trump, one in which a politician who began his 2016 bid from Trump Tower in New York City to little fanfare will try to become the first person in more than 125 years to retake control of the White House after losing an election.
But if he does run, he’ll also face a much different dynamic than his last contested primary, in 2016, when he ran an insurgent campaign against a hostile establishment. Now, Trump is the party’s established boss and desperate to keep control of its voters — but is trying to do so amid a surge of indications that his grip on the party is more fragile than ever, especially after a disappointing midterm election last week for the party.
The fiscal conservative group Club for Growth released a set of polls Monday showing Trump trailing the man thought to be his chief rival for the nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a quartet of key primary states, including Iowa and New Hampshire.
DeSantis now leads Trump by 11 percentage points in Iowa, 48% to 37%, and 15 percentage points in New Hampshire, 52% to 37%, in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup with GOP primary voters, according to the group’s survey.
In a statement, the group’s leader, David McIntosh, chided Trump for criticizing DeSantis just days before his reelection and urged him to hold off on a White House announcement until after the Senate runoff race in Georgia on Dec. 6.
“Republicans need to be united behind a strong candidate and a platform that shows voters real solutions to beat Biden and the Democrats in 2024,” McIntosh said. “Our polling shows that Republican primary voters recognize Trump’s insults against Republicans as hollow and counterproductive, and it’s taking a significant toll on his support. This shows Trump could help Republicans by delaying his announcement until after the Georgia runoff.”
The Club for Growth has been a Trump antagonist for years, and McIntosh is hardly the first prominent conservative to question the strength of Trump’s grip on the party.
Trump’s political resilience
Ever since his run for president in 2016, predictions about Trump’s demise have been wrong, whether in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, the subsequent general election, or even after Trump lost the 2020 White House race and helped incite a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — an action that persuaded 10 Republicans to back his impeachment in the House.
And other surveys of GOP voters and Republican-leaning independents show he still holds a commanding position within the primary: A Politico/Morning Consult survey released Tuesday found Trump receiving 47% support among them, with DeSantis the next closest competitor at 33%.
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Still, Trump has singled out DeSantis for criticism in recent weeks, nicknaming him “Ron DeSanctimonious” and lambasting some conservative media outlets that have labeled him the future of the Republican Party.
On Tuesday, the former president posted a video on Truth Social from DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign, in which the then-congressman positioned himself as a Trump acolyte on a wide range of issues, including building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Thanks, Ron!” Trump wrote.
Will Trump target rivals directly?
Whether Trump will criticize DeSantis, or any other potential Republican rival, by name during his speech from Mar-a-Lago is unknown. The former president name-checked DeSantis and others during a preelection speech in Iowa, saying their support among Republican voters was lower than his, although presidential announcements traditionally don’t single out primary competitors by name.
But the unusual early timing of the GOP leader’s address — coming just a week after the midterm election — is widely seen as an effort to show his strength within the party and discourage other Republicans from even entering the race.
Trump’s potential rivals, however, might be on the verge of entering the race anyway, including even his former vice president, Mike Pence.
In an interview this week with ABC News, Pence said he was open to a presidential run even if it meant competing against Trump.
“We’re giving it consideration in our house, prayerful consideration,” Pence said.
Asked if it meant he’d be running against Trump, Pence responded: “So be it.”